17 December 2011

You never know what you'll find...

...when you look through computer files. In a search for something else, I came across a letter I penned to the Lutheran Witness in 2001, after an article there claimed that the harrowing of hell was a "false doctrine."

Here's the letter:

Thank you for the recent article and Bible study on Christ’s descent into hell. It’s a topic full of comfort and worth considering. In two places, however, the doctrine that Christ’s descent into hell was also for the purpose of freeing Old Testament believers was labeled as a “false teaching.” We wish to dispute that claim.
First, neither Scripture nor our Confessions nor Dr. Luther explicitly or implictly reject this historic Christian teaching. The passages cited in the Bible study do not show its falsity either. Acts 2:21 says that those who call on the Lord’s name will be saved; no one is disputing that fact. Hebrews 11:13-16 speaks of the Old Testament saints having died in faith—without receiving the promises! Indeed, Hebrews 11:39-40 says that they, “having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” Furthermore, in his Two Natures in Christ, the great Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz refers twice to this teaching without condemning it.
Second, there are several passages of Scripture which suggest that such a freeing was a part of Jesus’ descent into hell. For example, Matthew mentions that at Jesus’ death, many bodies of the saints were raised, and that after His resurrection they entered the holy city. And what of Paul’s saying that in Jesus’ ascension, “he led captive a host of captives”—in the same context that he speaks of Jesus’ having “descended into the lower parts of the earth”? Christ’s descent into hell is reason for all believers to rejoice. The strong man has been bound, his power broken, and his possessions plundered.
As heirs of those who took pains to say that “among us nothing in doctrine or ceremonies has been accepted that would contradict either Holy Scripture or the universal Christian church” (Augsburg Confession, conclusion), we must reject any attempt to label this historic Christian doctrine as “false teaching.”

What's interesting about the letter is something I won't post--the names of the other ten LC-MS clergy at the time who co-signed it with me. The then-editor of the Witness, David Mahsman, took the unusual step of having a letter to the editor sent to doctrinal review. The letter failed. Naturally.

I'm posting it now because it marks a stage in my journey to the Church.