Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Can a Lutheran be a Universalist? (Part 4)

One of the grand paradoxes of being Lutheran is this - that, as devoted as we may be to the historic, orthodox teachings of the Christian faith, everything we believe and confess still falls subject to correction by the Word of God. A single, small word or phrase of Scripture has more power in it than all the volumes of Christian theology ever written.

A lone monk, standing on mere phrases of the biblical text (“the just shall live by faith”, etc), challenged a thousand years of learned thinking, “common knowledge”, official councils, pure reason, and “orthodox” teaching. Following such an example, even the most confessional, conservative among us will still, if we want to remain truly Lutheran, humbly subject ourselves to the power of the Word - through which God speaks - regardless of where it takes us, and what consequences we might suffer along the way.

To the Lutheran, tradition is allowed to speak softly, but the words of Scripture will always carry the big stick. And so if a Lutheran is to contemplate the final fate of the damned and reexamine the doctrine of unending torments, he or she must put aside tradition and treat it as nothing compared to the plain words of Scripture.

If the words of Scripture teach of punishment without end for the condemned, and no final restoration for all, then the Lutheran must accept that, even if it seems unfair, unmerciful, and contrary to the nature of God as we have come to know Him.

And if the words of Scripture teach of a final restoration of all, and do not teach of unending torments, than we must accept that also, even if it overthrows two thousand years of majority Christian thought, turns us into “heretics”, and results in countless new ways for the old man in us to abuse the grace of God.

And then there is the final “if.” What if the words of Scripture seem to teach both? What is a Lutheran supposed to do with that?

This, I submit, is what appears to be the actual case.

And Lutherans, in my opinion, are better equipped than most to deal with such a powerful Biblical contradiction.

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