Our TRBC founders determined from the outset that this concept would be a non-negotiable for us. We believe it enables the right function of Jesus’s followers in community together as prescribed throughout the New Testament.
What do we mean by church membership? We don’t mean something like joining a club or voluntary association of some sort—like the Elks or Kiwanis. Rather we mean we submit to churches like citizens do governments and children do parents for the peace and good order of those social spheres.
All authority comes from God (Rom. 13:1). The state exercises its authority wielding the sword. Parents exercise theirs wielding the rod of loving discipline. And the church of Jesus Christ exercises its servant authority wielding the keys of church discipline—determining who’s in on the basis of a credible profession of faith and who’s out on the basis of a discredited confession of faith (Matt. 16:18; 18:15-20).
Church membership is an authority issue. It goes against the grain of our independent, autonomous, rebel selves and calls us to arrange ourselves under God-ordained, duly-constituted authority for our protection and welfare.
Our founders understood that this fleshly resistance to authority is a particularly huge giant in the land that is our valley. There exists a stronghold among professing Christians that says something like, “I’ve got Jesus. I don’t need or want any human shepherds over me for my spiritual good.”
To say we are under Jesus’s authority while rejecting submission to trustworthy, qualified elders of a gospel-faithful local church is a contradiction in terms. We in actuality are NOT under His authority given what He says in His word—especially in texts like Hebrews 13:17. There we read:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (ESV).
The command is clear. Obey your leaders and submit to them. Here is a warning to check our lone-ranger inclinations at the church door. Obey is a word Pastor John Piper wisely nuances as soft obedience:
Hebrews 13:17 means that a church should have a bent toward trusting its leaders; you should have a disposition to be supportive in your attitudes and actions toward their goals and directions; you should want to imitate their faith; and you should have a happy inclination to comply with their instructions.
“Soft obedience” consists of keeping four things in view.
One, your leaders’ immense responsibility. For they are keeping watch over your souls. The word used here for keeping watch comes from a root which means to go without sleep. With the immense responsibility of watching out for the welfare of souls, leaders can and do lose sleep. Bear this in mind when wrestling with embracing their teaching and counsel from the word of God.
Two, your leaders’ ultimate accountability. As those who will have to give an account. Romans 14:12 is clear. Each of us shall give an account of himself to God. Elders get to do that AND give account for their words, choices, counsel, direction, reproof, instruction, etc. to those under their charge. Keep the nature of this immense responsibility and its intimidating accountability in mind when you calculate what kind of disposition you will present toward your spiritual leaders.
Three, your leaders’ positive emotionality. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning. When it comes time for your pastors to give an account to God for his shepherding in your life, what kind of attitude do you want coming from their countenance at the judgment? Delight or disgust?
The word for groaning is the same word used in Romans 8:23 about creation. Determine to cultivate a disposition toward your leaders, especially when they move into your lives with reproof and instruction—aimed at the preservation of your soul's eternal wellbeing, with a bent toward obedience. Your choices do have some bearing on their joy. Pastors must labor for their joy and the joy of their peoples no matter what (2 Cor. 1:24). But you can make it so much easier, so much less arduous, so much more delightful, by your sweet, responsive, thoughtfully-compliant, easily-led disposition.
Four, your own personal profitability. Let them do this with joy and not groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. This may be the most important motivation of all to keep in mind with respect to cultivating and easily led disposition—your own personal benefit. The word translated here of no advantage means unprofitable, harmful. It’s a strong way of saying a miserable pastor is nothing less than disastrous, ruinous for you! Think of your own welfare. Calculate this. Reckon this. Let your elders do their job utilizing every effort you can to make it nothing but their absolute delight and pleasure. In the end analysis that will profit you immensely! The opposite will prove to be of no advantage to you and more than likely far worse than that.
Bottom line? In the church of Jesus Christ, saints should cultivate an easily-led disposition toward their godly, responsible, spiritual leaders.
For these reasons and more we plead for believers professing Jesus Christ as Savior: become a member of a local church! It speaks volumes about your intentions to obey a verse like Hebrews 13:17 and others like it. It means you are serious about your leaders’ Herculean task to watch over your soul. It means you understand they will stand before God someday and render account for how they executed their stewardship in your lives.
Please don’t make it hard. Don’t hide under the radar. Subject yourself properly to your governing authorities in a local church. And pray for and promote your pastors’ joy. Miserable shepherds make lousy shepherds. Position yourself for the profit and protection that goes with a covenant commitment to membership that seeks to preserve your soul. You won’t regret it.