For your consideration, QBR readers…
What is the "spiritual life" of Lutherans? The "spiritual life" of Lutherans is both public and private. Part of it is private, because Jesus said it should be so (Matthew 6:1-18). Part of it is public, i.e., in the worship assembly, because all Christians need the encouragement of fellow believers to engage in the "spiritual disciplines" that constitute their "spiritual life."
It sounds strange for Lutherans to talk about "spiritual disciplines." It was not strange for the first and second generation of Lutherans. When the Formula of Concord talked about worship practices, it observed that such practices should contribute to "Christian discipline" (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article X, sections 1, 7, & 9). The Bible talks about the same thing as "training in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16).
What are the "spiritual disciplines"? We would not argue with anyone if they create a different list, but these seven seem to us most the most essential:
1) The Word – hearing, reading, and thinking about the Word of God as given to us in the Holy Scriptures—this is also a "means of grace";
2) The Sacraments – receiving God's gifts, which remind us of our spiritual need—this is also a "means of grace";
3) Reverent Prayer and Song – giving God his due honor and respect by our words in worship—a biblical term for this is "praise";
4) Petitions – offering up to God our requests for every blessing, help, and comfort;
5) Confession of Sins – admitting our state of sinfulness and actual sins, whether corporately, privately before a pastor, or alone to God in prayer—absolution is also a "means of grace";
6) Resisting the Flesh and Its Works – Paul called this "crucifying the sinful nature" (Galatians 5:16-21, 24, 26; see Luther in Luther's Works 27:63-105), which is an hour-by-hour discipline;
7) Bearing Afflictions and Trials – Luther called this the "cross," (see e.g. Luther in Luther's Works 31:225-228 & 43:183-186) which is occasionally inflicted upon, not chosen by, believers; like tests in school, they only occur once in awhile.
The first five of these spiritual disciplines are public, i.e., they take place in public worship. They are of the essence of Lutheran worship. The second two are private, i.e., they take place privately in the life of believers.
What is the purpose of these seven "spiritual disciplines"? Nothing other than the celebrated nine "fruits of the Spirit": love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22; see Luther in Luther's Works 27: 93-96).
Here is the brilliant, practical import of Luther's Reformation theology! Christians cannot develop the fruits of the Spirit by mere willpower. The exertion of the human will always leads to human fruit, i.e., the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Christians can, however, engage in the seven spiritual disciplines, which result in the nine fruits of the spirit.
How do the seven spiritual disciplines result in the nine fruits of the spirit? The spiritual disciplines are like calisthenics that an athlete does daily, often one or two hours a day. The fruits of the spirit are like the games or races of that athlete, which are based on the abilities developed through daily exercises. Without those exercises, no athlete can succeed! (see II Timothy 2:2-6).
The direct relationship between the "spiritual disciplines" and the "fruit of the spirit" is why changes in worship are so important for Lutherans, and why they generate so much debate. The church cannot dictate what people do privately in their spiritual disciplines (#6 & 7 above), but it has to come to some agreement about their public spiritual disciplines (#1-5 above).
Lutherans who understand worship are concerned that disordering, diluting, or eliminating the public spiritual disciplines (#1-5 above) will result in a lessening of spiritual fruit in the life of believers. The Word, the Sacraments, prayer, songs, petitions, and confessions, when ordered according to God's Word, all create the fruit of the Spirit. Where they are disordered, diminished or lost, Christian sanctification and spiritual life will stagnate and die!
You often hear about debates between "traditional" and "contemporary" worship. "Old" versus "new" is not the issue. "Style" versus "substance" is not the issue. The real issues are between those who understand that worship contains necessary "spiritual disciplines" and those who simply see worship as social activity or entertainment. Those who are concerned about the possible hazards of "contemporary worship" are not worried about old forms, old texts, or old music. They are really concerned about the only means that we have to produce sanctification in the life of believers. They are really concerned about spiritual life!