Invited Not To Belong
It’s been said as a joke, that if Jesus showed up at your church He’d possibly be asked to leave. Picking fights with clergy, hanging out with losers and reprobates, making whips, and turning tables would cause the ones who make all the rules to break out in a cold sweat. To be brutally honest, I wonder if the ones who make all these jokes about Jesus not belonging are unknowingly communicating the same message to others. From the watchdogs who sift people through their controlling filters, to the rule makers who scan the pews for any loose cannons that refuse to toe the line, they try their best to get shot of the uncomfortable rabble-rousers they don’t know what to do with. These are the ones, whether knowingly or unknowingly decide if others are invited not to belong.
This phrase, “invited not to belong” was how the theologian, A.W. Tozer described his experience when he was 18 years old. He found the other church members disapproved of his excitement over his revival, feeling he had become a little too radical for their religious tastes. Tozer reflects, “…they as good as told me that I was a bit extreme and the church would be better off without my company. I was not thrown out; I was just invited not to belong.” The uncomfortable uneasiness of Tozer’s revival revelation caused the sticklers for conformity to invite him not to belong. And so, he left the church because, as Tozer suggests, “never lower yourself to match that level. Instead, you say to yourself, By the grace of God, I’m going to be what I should be regardless.”1
See, that’s the thing about Jesus, even though He was invited not to belong by the “spiritual elite”,2 none of that nonsense deterred Him from expanding His kingdom. He was going to be what He should be regardless of the naysayers. According to Larry Osborne, in his book, Accidental Pharisees, the word Pharisee means “separated one.”2
I think this is where some folks get their wires crossed. Rather than reflecting the ecclesia, which means the called-out ones, a community of believers who come together because of the Holy Spirit,3 a select few end up leaning toward wanting to become the separated ones more than the called-out ones. As Tozer experienced in his church, when you start to get a little passionate about following Jesus, you’re invited not to belong.
Just as the Pharisees acted with Jesus because they believed Him to be too radical, the invitation not to belong will be very subtle at first, you know, nothing too obvious. The underlying idea is to malnourish your appetite in wanting a radical revival of signs, miracles, and wonders until you’ve fallen into a comatose state, and then the self-appointed watchdogs will be praying and hoping that you’ll quietly slip away with no fuss.
Sounds like a plan. And yet, if you truly want to follow Jesus, if your passion is to see revival, then I’m afraid you’re done for. Because if Jesus has stirred your heart to feel something more than religion. If He’s put a fire in your belly to do something more than play church every Sunday, and if He’s called you to rise into the warm currents of His grace and become who you’re meant to be, then you’ll possibly be invited not to belong. However, take heart, dear reader, for Jesus will be front and centre cheering you on.
Why did Jesus get all fired up with the legalistic mindset of the Pharisees? Because He wanted everyone who’d felt the sting of being invited not to belong to feel like they finally belonged. The disconnected, the marginalised, the wounded, and the outcast, all belonged and were welcome in God’s kingdom as far as Jesus was concerned. His passion to see a movement of change caused Him to question and confront the rule-keepers and watchdogs, the ones who wanted Him to take His rabble with Him and slip away quietly. And yet, when their invitation to not belong eventually left Jesus being crucified, His ministry was just getting started.
I don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers, but perhaps it’s time to test out your wings and feel the exhilarating updrafts that will make your faith soar. Sure, you’ll be invited not to belong in some church circles, but that won’t faze you too much when you’ve learned how to trust and truly follow Jesus. Deuteronomy 31:8 gives a promise that ‘He will be leading you. He’ll be with you, and He’ll never fail you or abandon you. So don’t be afraid!’
Be like Jesus and Tozer because, by the grace of God, you’ll become who you should be, who you were meant to be, regardless of whether you’re invited, or invited not to belong.
Have you ever been invited not to belong? How did it make you feel?
1. A W Tozer, and James L Snyder. 2017. The Essential Tozer Collection. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House.
2. Osborne, Larry W. Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
3. Grenz, Stanley J, and Jay T Smith. 2015. Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living. Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Academic.