Pr. Cwirla has an absolutely bang-up post on the fruits of the Spirit and Lutheran trepidation:
We Lutherans live under a terrible burden of having to be right all the time. We value purity above all things – purity of doctrine, of practice, of hymnody, of programs, of purpose. Yet purity is never held out to the sinner-saint as an attainable goal. It’s a forensic-given in Christ, and utterly impossible in ourselves. If we claim to be “pure” in what we do, we will ever be on the defensive justifying ourselves against those who claim otherwise and constantly measuring ourselves against the next guy. Defensiveness tends to bring out the worst of our sinful selves. Defensiveness and fear open the door to the anger, strife, party spirit, and dissension that war against the fruit of the Spirit.
I believe that much of our Lutheran anxiety has to do with defensiveness and fear. We want to present our denarius back to the Master pure and undefiled. And so we don’t take risks, we play it safe, we hedge our bets, we hide behind the skirts of our institutions, we circle our wagons to ward off the challengers. We wrap our shiny denarius in a sock and tuck it safely in the back of a drawer. But the Master said, “Do business,” not “keep it pure.” We are fearful and defensive, not trusting the Word to do His work, not trusting that God justifies the unjustifiable and ungodly, acting as though Jesus needed us to defend Him. Poor Jesus. And in our fear and unbelief, we stunt the fruit the Spirit wants to produce in us for the benefit of others.
My thoughts have run along the same lines as Cwirla’s critique lately, especially where he points out our common tendency to use treasured doctrines to defend ourselves from the work of the Spirit, rather than being worked on by the Spirit through them:
I worry about my fellow Lutheran pilgrims who have become so wrapped up in defending their “being Lutheran” that they have lost the sense of wonder and joy at being justified for Jesus’ sake. I wonder whether we haven’t become the Ephesian church of the Revelation, doctrinally pure yet loveless, able to spot a heretical Nicolaitan from a mile away, yet flagging in the love that once characterized life together.
I wrote about about this in this post (shameless plug!), where I argued that:
The proper distinction of Law and Gospel is not a method for keeping God out of our lives, but for seeing how He has already gotten in. Even the finest doctrine, hermeneutic, or slogan can be misused to avoid vulnerability to the Word. The moment we’ve done so, we’ve turned a blessing to a curse.
In many ways, I see this misuse of God’s promises is one of the central struggles the people of God face. Look at Israel’s history in scripture: If they weren’t wrestling with absolute debauchery, they had become completely consumed with ticking a doctrinal checklist in order to save themselves. Sure, theirs may have consisted of a set of ritualistic rules, but how much does that really differ from our own list of requirements for right-standing with God? Scripture (and Jesus!) makes it clear that it wasn’t the Law that was Israel’s problem, but its misuse. I think the same goes for our catechisms, confessions, and liturgies. Properly used, they are blessings. Wrongly used, they are our own distinctly Lutheran brand of works-righteousness, and a litmus test for admission into our club. But if Israel was entrusted with the very oracles of God, as St. Paul says, how much more richly have we been gifted with the body and blood of Jesus in Word and Sacrament? That’s not something to be frightened over, it’s pleasure and joy, joy, joy.