We Lutherans like to believe that “the tradition of the church” holds little sway in our theology. Sola Scriptura precludes it. And our long-running dispute with Rome over the role of tradition and church councils demands that we poo-poo tradition in favor of the Biblical text.
However, it seems to me that we huff and puff a bit too much about all this. We are, I think, in denial on the matter. I discovered this in my little controversy with the WELS regarding church fellowship, where I learned just how powerful the “tradition of the church” can be. In that controversy, Scripture itself consistently took second place to the church’s traditional interpretation of Scripture. There was far more emphasis on the actual meaning and interpretation of the wording of the church doctrine (and the books that tried to explain it) than there ever was concerning the words of Scripture. In the end, my own (and others) beliefs and actions were judged against the wording (and supposed meaning) of the church’s written documents - not the words of Scripture. Of course, my adversaries claimed that they were essentially one and the same - which is precisely my point.
So as I assess the obstacles to Lutheran universalism, I believe the tradition of the church, the rulings of councils, the thoughts and writings of the most dominant theologians, and ultimately peer pressure - all these will present far more difficulty to the Lutheran universalist than the Biblical text. Although closet universalists may be many, there are few today who are willing to publicly challenge traditional church teaching on the everlasting destiny of the damned.
It is not without good reason that Gregory MacDonald (whoever he is) used a pseudonym when he wrote his book The Evangelical Universalist.