Self-discipline or self- control is a good thing and a fruit of the Spirit. Self-church discipline is something entirely different, deeply distressing and quite dangerous.
I want to suggest that most “Church Discipline” is self-administered. Remember that church discipline will often include asking people to step down from particular roles and responsibilities and eventually may include exclusion from church membership.
So, what happens when someone self-disciplines? They start to exclude themselves from things including:
– Roles and responsibilities within the church
– The Lord’s Table – this is often a major issue -they feel unable to take the bread and the wine.
– Fellowship -they stop meeting with God’s people for praise, Bible teaching and prayer either in the main gathering or in small groups or in both.
– Church membership -eventually they choose to resign.
Now the problem with this is that although it may have the same prompt/catalyst in terms of an awareness of sin and though it has the same outward effect, exclusion from the body, what it lacks is:
1. A genuine awareness of the depth of sin and the need for repentance
2. Real insight into the risk of harm to others and to Gospel witness. The primary focus is on the person themselves and how they feel rather than how their actions may affect others.
3. A full grasp of the Gospel. They don’t see the ability of Christ to forgive, cleanse, heal and restore. So the discipline becomes the end point rather than the means to the end. They don’t see restoration as possible or preferable and so they go their own separate way.
The danger with self-discipline is that I am at the same time both softer on myself because I fail to recognise the true seriousness of sin and harsher on myself because grace is excluded.
It is far better to seek restoration, to get right with God and with each other. At the very point when you are tempted to separate yourself from the body, that’s just when you need the body.