Great Stuff — The End of Doctrinal Review as we know it

A great post found on Rev Schmidt’s blog:


It has not happened yet, not by a long shot; but mark my words, it will happen.  It will not happen by convention resolution or by edict of the Synod President, nor will its disappearance even be noticed.

No, what will happen is that doctrinal review of publications in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod will end because there will simply be nothing left to review.  Oh, maybe there will be some commentaries that will need review, and of course The Lutheran Witness and Portals of Prayer will still need to be reviewed; but hard core theological textbooks, the kind that are published and then used in classrooms for a generation or more?  They will be no more.

It is not that there will no longer be any theology to discuss; we are living in the end times, and the continuing depravity of sin will demand that the unique Lutheran voice that only The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod can offer is needed now more than ever.  But our voice will no longer come through printed books.

Where will that voice come from?

It will come through blogs and internet videos; produced by local pastors in their own congregations, where they are their own doctrinal review.

And this is quite possibly for the best.  The cry of the Church, both at the local congregation and at the higher-up Synodical office level, and even at the Seminary level is that the Church needs a more immediate response to the issues in the world.  We simply cannot wait for a book to be written, and then sit in doctrinal review for a year or more, and then finally be published when the original issue is long forgotten.

Blogs and internet video are instantaneous, and allow for the word to get out faster and go farther than ever before.  Blogs and internet videos are the modern day equivalent of the tract in Luther’s day: what once took months to get the word out, can now be done in moments.

What of the official doctrinal review process?  It is thanked for its years of praise-worthy service to the Church and sent home.

Granted, the internet is available to everyone, and when you have every pastor in the Church able to post statements on any and every issue that makes the evening news or the morning paper, there are going to be some statements that are wrong, others that need to be clarified, and then some that are simply brilliant.

So the question would be, wouldn’t doctrinal review be helpful to weed out the good from the bad?

The answer is yes; no one ever said doctrinal review was bad.  The doctrinal review is just happening in a far different manner than it did before.  Instead of a board in St. Louis filtering through every item that comes out, now, every pastor and layman in Synod is the doctrinal review.  The system is now charged with policing itself.

This is not a proposal by any means; it is a picture of the future.  The reality is that blogs (like this one) and internet videos (like my Church Bells are Ringing page) are already putting out statements and devotions and studies without any review at all.  They are simply being policed by the system.

Just like the capitalist system that drives the American economy, the good videos and blogs will rise to the top, and those that are weak and lacking will sink to the bottom.

Let me be the first to thank the doctrinal review committee for their service to the Church.  They have served admirably over the years.  But times are changing, and the committee will soon be out of a job.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff — The End of Doctrinal Review as we know it — 22 Comments

  1. Impossible. I, for one, and my literate children, who incidentally don’t have A.D.D., will read books. We will always read books. Keep ’em coming!

  2. It is very good that the LCMS has doctrinal review. The process may not be perfect, but a church body that does not have a way to review what is pumped out at the official level is doomed. For some reason, this post reminds me of some good Latin sayings:

    abusus non tollit usus

    (The abuse of a thing does not negate its proper use)

    and while certainly granting the benefits of a free-er market, something that unfettered capitalist ideology slopes into that is NOT true:

    Vox populi, vox Dei

    (The voice of the people is the voice of God)

    Ochlocracy, no thank you. I would prefer a tyrant, even a bad or inept one to the mob.

  3. I see where you are coming from, that in this age of social media that all pastors and congregations and even lay people will have their own voice and be able to contest Synod’s publications, and that we will have church governance that is closer to that of the ALFAC than that of the LCMS as it is now. But everyone has had unique thoughts over time, and just because there are now voices for those thoughts (AKA Twitter and Facebook) doesn’t mean that it will be the end of church government. We will never cease to have a need for good leadership and good theologians, and will defer to such as needs be.

  4. If the original post is accurate, and I pray that it is not, the logical conclusion would be that we should increase the depth and breadth of lay catechesis and also of education of pastors. Additionally continuing education will be very important. If we are on our own for doctrinal review, we must all be far better educated than we are now, as a group.

  5. @ Carol: Whether the original post is accurate of not the work of the ministry SHOULD always work toward increasing the depth and breadth of catechesis of both lay and clergy folk. We would be a much stronger synod if lay folk (all) attended a Bible class regularly that challenged and really worked both the lay folk and the pastor. As a pastor, I’m not surprised at the lack of understanding many lay folk have as I consider how little theological work many pastors engage in. I would rather not say that, but it is true. Of course there are also exemplary examples of serious study of God’s word going on as well, but still some clergy, it seems to me, stopped studying when they graduated from the Seminary.

  6. On the contrary, I would suggest that doctrinal review is simply one part of what Fr. Harrison has called for, namely “visitation”. Visitation is a duty of the Office of the Holy Ministry, a duty which has at various times been exercised differently but was never exercised by the laity, not even by the Bereans.

    Perhaps no books will be written in the future. However, we as a church are grounded in the past. The day that the church has no need for doctrinal review is the day that we stop translating Luther, Chemnitz, Gerhard, the Confessions, the Creeds, the Fathers, and ultimately Holy Scripture itself into new languages. If we do not write books in the future, we will become a church of the present and will have left the catholic Church of all ages. Her theologians, pastors, and prophets for two millenia have written books.

    Doctrinal review will be with us as long as sin and error adhere to the sinners in the Church, and as long as the Church holds steadfast to Christ’s institution of the Holy Office.

  7. @Carol Broome #5

    Carol Broome :
    If the original post is accurate, and I pray that it is not, the logical conclusion would be that we should increase the depth and breadth of lay catechesis and also of education of pastors. Additionally continuing education will be very important. If we are on our own for doctrinal review, we must all be far better educated than we are now, as a group.

    Educated laity is the blessing of being Lutheran. We have removed the mystery of theology. Of course these days, too many of the clergy have lapsed into the Roman “hoarding” of theology. We can thank them for aiding in the spread of CW and talks of WO.
    Lord have mercy.

  8. @Rev. Brandt Hoffman #8
    Educated laity is the blessing of being Lutheran.

    The average Lutheran, (barring the 2 dozen who show up for a Pastor’s class), learned his Small Catechism, 40 years ago, not much more and hasn’t looked at it since. But he thinks he’s an educated Lutheran! Compared to the many following, who were adjudged “smartest ever” but at the same time, “unable to memorize” (something that should start at six instead of 12) the older ones may be right.
    But they are not educated enough to read, let alone teach the Confessions. (Half of them have only a vague notion the Confessions exist.) And that has been the intent from the top…. an uneducated laity can be sold almost anything, and has been.

    1. Primarily: that all our heretics marched out the front door with “Seminex” …

    Truth: besides the seminexers who walked right in again, through the back, we had at least 20 years of pastors already indoctrinated in disbelief and what they didn’t believe, they didn’t teach their congregations.
    So Missouri is as full of non-doctrinal “Lutherans” as a Swiss cheese is full of holes!

    Internet chatter seldom reaches the level of reasoned discourse. [Witness this blog]
    The conventions haven’t seriously discussed doctrine or applied it for decades.

    We’re already bringing in methobaptocostal ideas by the truckload and teaching “business methods” instead of theology to our seminarians and pastors. No doubt the people cheering this on would LOVE to have doctrinal review abandoned. (They ignore it already.)

    We don’t need to abandon doctrinal review. We need to make it better and teach the people why they shouldn’t be studying Rick Warren and all that other works righteous [@*%$X] in LWML, etc.

    Why complain of “Roman hoarding of theology” except to blow concealing smoke over the direction that the drive toward Lutheran heterodoxy and ignorance is really coming from!? Bill Hybels isn’t “Roman”, neither is Fuller seminary, PLI or …us1st. Why not admit that that is where CG and WO are really coming from?

    Contrary to some really silly newspaper speculations, the next Pope will not be a woman!
    That will happen much sooner in the Violet Vatican.

  9. It is just as possible that having everything available electronically, in an electronic version, on a synod web host, that would include CPH as a web/host, electronic archive, would make doctrinal review of every church bulletin from every Sunday reviewable from the synod web host. We’d have to have agreements that all churches use electronic bulletins and that the bulletin contains an electronic copy of the entire service, perhaps as a video. You would have more visitations, not less, because every sermon given at every synod church, would be viewable to every synod member at the synod website. It can be done, and we are only talking about what is absolutely public. Doctrinal review of every single sermon, or do we have Sunday sermons that are private and not meant to be seen and heard potentially by any and everyone.

    Technically, it’s all possible now. When pypyrus ceased to be the carrier for bible texts, when animal skins stopped, when paper started, none of this stopped the Bible and printing with movable types stays the same even if the fonts are electronic now. The text will be carried on a glass or flexable plastic and electronic medium just like the tens of thousands of book titles now available in electronic form. The book will not stop, how many you read, where , and when will change (current research is indicating that people are reading more books now, on electronic media, rather than less) . Many of you do this now with CPH titles. You read a CPH title while waiting at the airport terminal to take off. You pull up the text on some carriable device not so very different in size from a paperback book now. But, instead of one title, you might have access to 100 CPH titles on that little reader. I’m hearing people wax as romantic about their readers and how they feel in the hand as people do about paper-based reading devices.

    I listened yesterday to the chapel service at CTS, FW. I should be able to see it and move my view from station to station during the service. If the chapel service needs a visitation, well, it will take the responsible party about 30 minutes to do it and electronically post his visitation report, if that is not private. Are they teaching heresy at the sem? Tune in and see for yourself. Read the lectures, look at the professor’s site. The synod could, and most likely will sooner or later, develop the best ways to make the workings of the synod as transparent as possible (I’m not unaware of the transparency promise/failure in government, right now). Much of it already is. We all saw the opera buffa at the NWD meeting with President Harrison. We saw our president stand up to open and dead obvious sin/heresy from free-thinkers who were just wondering about these things. Don’t like my description, hey, watch it for yourself.

    What if we had all been party to what the SP/DP did with the waffeling pastor way out east where the manichaes bloom. Would being there and making comments from knowledge be better or worse. Electronic access can, is, has, and will be doing lots and lots of that for us.

    The next Synod convention, will any smidgen bit of it be off audio/visual access? Doubt it. However, no recording devises in confession. Remember, all this only works when we are in control (we is the whole synod), not when the technology is in control. We make the electronics work for us and control it just as we would a roaring fire in our homes.

    You all do know that CPH has an electronic version of LSB and the technology is ready for any one in synod or around the world to know what hymns you sang last Sunday and which setting of the liturgy, if any, even the one for gittar/sittar/bongo drums. It’s all a big jumble now, but one day we will all wake up and know just what to do to make it work for us.

  10. @helen #9
    “The average Lutheran, (barring the 2 dozen who show up for a Pastor’s class), learned his Small Catechism, 40 years ago, not much more and hasn’t looked at it since. But he thinks he’s an educated Lutheran! ”

    Yep. Ask yourself “Why” and you’ll see that we agree.

  11. @Rev. Brandt Hoffman #11

    Having talked to quite a few pastors whose congregations care deeply for theological study, I think the education of the laity goes both ways. There are some places where lay people suffer because their undershepherd is scared to pull out the BOC and introduce folks to theological lingo. That’s a shame because everyone involved suffers.

    On the other hand–and I count myself blessed to be at this type–where our pastor encourages deep study by the laity throughout the week. We, in turn, encourage our pastor to remain faithful to the Lutheran Confessions, steeped in our theological lingo and heritage and faithful to his ordination vows.

    AS a layman, I encourage both pastors and fellow laypeople to engage in the theological discussions that electronic and social media provide.

    Of course, we’ll always have topnotch theological resources at our hands and on our computers. So, we do well to encourage CPH and the host of other, smaller Confessional Lutheran presses to publish, conscious of doctrinal review/quia subscription to th eBOC.

    A huge advantage that our social and electronic media give is the 24-7 access to our seminaries’ chapel services, Lutheran programming on LPR, Issues, PCR, etc. And, again, we have the joy of including these resources as part of our theological study and growth. And, let’s keep promoting our Confessional conferences of various kinds. They help both layity and pastorate in our study, confession, and life together. They encourage the ongoing doctrinal purity in our publications and books.

  12. Forget doctrinal review. What about editorial review? The spelling, the grammar, the syntax, subject/predicate agreement, homonym errors not to mention an abundant harvest of logical fallacies. The internet is where language and thought go to die.

  13. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    This conversation reminds me of the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In that movie, and its screenplay, written in 1968, Arthur C. Clarke predicted in less than forty years the nations of the world would have a thriving colony on the moon, be capable of interplanetary travel to Jupiter, and cryogenic freezing and unfreezing of humans without any evident damage.

    That was a thrilling promise for the first year in which we orbited the moon, and for the subsequent year in which we landed there, but little of that promise has been fulfilled. Why? Even brilliant scientists are over-confident in technology. Technology never moves or develops in the ways that even experts think it will. That is why investing in high-tech is so risky.

    There will always be a need for doctrinal review by church-bodies that are concerned about doctrine. “Doctrinal review” is really peer review by persons with expertise with attention to doctrinal issues. Though such review may change, it will not go away.

    Doctrinal review by the LCMS today is not limited to print, as far as I know. Everything published by CPH, the LCMS, its agencies, and its auxiliaries goes through doctrinal review. This is whether it is print, video, audio, or whatever other media you can think of. All things reviewed are intended for long term use, which is why the relatively lengthy process is tolerated.

    Items that have immediate use, like news, have their own peer review process. Articles submitted to Lutheran Witness, for example, are reviewed by several editors. The reason that KFUO is directly under the President’s office is because doctrinal review is directly under his office-see the LCMS bylaws on that.

    The LCMS (and other churches) have always had their “unofficial publications” written and edited by people not elected by the church. These are of varied quality and reliability, as is the nature of the case. Christian News, for example, is a one-man author-editor process. There are no checks and balances in that system.

    In contrast, LOGIA, is a multi-editor process, with six or seven editors (from LCMS, WELS, and ELS) reviewing every article, and if one editor objects, the item usually doesn’t get printed. The editorial process itself is also reviewed by LOGIA on a regular basis, and the editors know they are accountable ultimately to the Director and Board of Directors of the Luther Academy.

    The quality and reliability of a publication is what makes it worth your time and effort to read it, and to recommend it to others. Quality and reliability are a product of: 1) author’s talent and integrity; 2) editors’ talent and integrity; 3) editorial process. This is the case whether a publication is in print or electronic.

    The printed book is not going away, but paper won’t be used for everything it was used in 1970. Printed paper and books have certain advantages over electronic-books, and electronic media. Of course, people in the computer industry want to convince you to ditch paper books for e-readers, tablets, etc. They make money off that you know. They also make more money when you have to upgrade every other year; and all the old e-books you bought are suddenly worthless.

    I grew up in Silicon Valley. I went to high school across from Hewlett-Packard. My junior college is now across from Apple Computer. My home public library is now across from Symantec. I worked at Intel for several summers. I know how these people make their money. And they make lots and lots of money that way.

    My advice: You will still want to purchase printed paper books for long-term use. Pastors will want to buy items for their professional library that they will use for the rest of their career. Lay members will still want to purchase paper books for long-term use at home: Bibles, catechisms, hymnals, Book of Concord, etc. For most people these are lifetime purchases, and if on paper, will not be subject to incessant upgrades, loss, viruses, etc.

    For other items, we will see what is more practical in the long-run, print or electronic.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  14. @ #13 “Christian News, for example, is a one-man author-editor process. There are no checks and balances in that system.”

    J. A. O. Preus II: I think I’m the first person who ever wrote in Christian News who said he didn’t know. Every writer in that journal knows. They don’t all know the same thing, but they all know.

    You and Your Synod — Present Issues Between the Synod and Other Lutherans
    Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, Illinois

  15. When the world can’t wait, the Church and the faithful must–and they do, because that’s what faith does whie it proclaims the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

    You know, Wittenberg beer, and all that.

    That said, doctrinal review doesn’t sell books or fill pews.

  16. @David Preus #1
    Hey! What’s ADD got to do with it! My kids both have ADHD. And this is coming from a mom who all her life did not believe in “ADHD.” We homeschool, I spend time with my kids, limit TV (Actually, they’re only allowed to watch videos that I’ve approved–no TV), they rarely use a computer, we don’t own an “X-Box,” I read to them every day–have since they were born. We discipline and instruct them. But ADHD is a very real thing, but highly misunderstood. If you want, I can send you a little essay I wrote on redefining the “H” in ADHD. Using the word “hyperactive” makes it so that normal boys and girls who can’t sit still are medicated. Boys and girls who aren’t raised properly and don’t behave (because of too much TV, lack of discipline, etc.) are medicated. It makes it difficult for those who really have ADHD to be taken seriously. Even a lot of doctors misunderstand ADHD.
    Now what was the original post about? Lol! I’ll have to go back and read it…

  17. Oh yes, the original topic. I came across this blog post while doing a search on qualifications for being on the LCMS Doctrinal Review Board. Mainly because Lutheran school curricula and children’s books can sometimes be very bad, but sometimes very good. Sometimes I don’t know how certain things passed the review board…
    Anyhow, there are other organizations that produce good LCMS writings besides CPH. As Pr. Noland pointed out though, these are peer reviewed by other LCMS pastors. They are not just some pastor’s ramblings in a blog or newsletter article. Three specific examples come to mind: Higher Things, Good News Magazine, and Pax Domini Press–none of which are under LCMS Board of Review. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) But they are quality, confessional LCMS resources which often produce better things for kids (theologically speaking) than what the official Synod puts out. And Good News is for adults–great stuff in that. If you do a google search there is another Good News Magazine which is NOT Lutheran. Don’t get confused.

    Higher Things and Pax Domini might not be in existence without the internet. In these cases it has been helpful to these organizations to have an alternative outlet so that we can move away from Synodical publications when we need to.

  18. Rev. Brandt Hoffman :
    @Carol Broome #5

    Educated laity is the blessing of being Lutheran. We have removed the mystery of theology. Of course these days, too many of the clergy have lapsed into the Roman “hoarding” of theology. We can thank them for aiding in the spread of CW and talks of WO.
    Lord have mercy.

    What on earth are you talking about? When pastors offer a midweek Bible class and no one comes except 4 old ladies who already know scripture better than the rest of the congregation PUT TOGETHER–how is that hoarding?
    Contemporary Worship and Women’s Ordination have nothing to do with pastors hoarding theology. It has to do with the LCMS allowing heterodox pastors to teach false theology to an uneducated laity. I WISH those pastors would hoard their theology.
    In our experience, it has been the laity who are resistant to theology. When I was a Sunday school superintendent I was informed by the parents that I was not to use the catechism at all during VBS, nor should there be any time set aside for Bible study during VBS. (I resigned after that.) How can anyone work with people who have the idea that theology is too “intense” for kids? Then those kids grow up and continue the cycle. It’s frustrating. If you treated math and grammar the same way– those parents would be upset. But the Bible is just all fun and games…

  19. @Rev. Brandt Hoffman #11
    Yep. Ask yourself “Why” and you’ll see that we agree.

    I don’t think so. Because you laid the problem on “Roman hoarding of theology”.

    The truth is in the other direction: Willowcreek and Saddleback. “Bible studies” featuring non-Lutheran writers in LWML. Fascination with “Da Vinci Code” and “Mrs. Jesus” among people who are hazy on what Scripture says. Pastors who thought the BOC was “boring” in seminary, so it collects dust, unless their laity force them to bring it out and then, “Whadyano!? there’s a lot of good stuff in there!”

    I really don’t know who you are calling “Roman”… people who value the historic Lutheran liturgy maybe?
    The problem in our Lutheran churches is generic protestantism, (and maybe “christian” radio)!
    Playtime Sunday schools, where once the emphasis was on Christian education, don’t help either.

    @KatieB #20
    If you treated math and grammar the same way– those parents would be upset. But the Bible is just all fun and games…

    Math and grammar have been treated that way. The only important thing is school is passing some state test. It’s not, even in supposedly “good” schools, being able to construct a legible paper, or understand arithmetic, let alone algebra. 🙁

  20. @helen #21 “Math and grammar have been treated that way. The only important thing is school is passing some state test. It’s not, even in supposedly “good” schools, being able to construct a legible paper, or understand arithmetic, let alone algebra. :(”

    Oh, I agree–but the parents don’t know that. (For full disclosure, we homeschool.) Their kids still do math every day and math homework every day, and the parents don’t rebel against that. But if you ask their kids to come to a midweek class once a week once a week, that’s just too “intense.”

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