The doctrinal review process exists to assist the President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in the exercise of this responsibility to determine that every doctrinal statement made in its, its agencies', and its auxiliaries' materials is in accord with Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. The definition and procedure for the process is established in the LCMS's bylaws (see section 1.9 of the Handbook of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod). (from the Synod's website)Here is the perspective of CPH, the wholly owned publishing house and voice of the LCMS in print:
What is Doctrinal Review?Most of you know that Rome also has a somewhat similar process. The Roman Catholic Church’s canonical discipline on publishing materials related to faith and morals is found chiefly in Canons 822-832 and focuses on two well-known markers of doctrinal orthodoxy and pastoral suitability, namely, the “nihil obstat” (a theologian’s certification that nothing obstructs faith or morals per 1983 CIC 830 § 2) and the “imprimatur” (a local ordinary’s [bishop] determination that the writings may be responsibly published per 1983 CIC 830 § 3). The nihil obstat does not imply that everything in a text is stated correctly, but rather, is concerned with whether anything is stated wrongly; the imprimatur does not imply that a book is actually good or helpful, but rather, asks whether it is a bad idea to publish it. Throughout the process, authors and their works are generally, and understandably, viewed benignly (e.g., 1983 CIC 212). [Copied from canonist Ed Peters]
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has a process by which all materials published by its national entities are reviewed in order to certify that the content is faithful to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. As the publishing arm of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Concordia Publishing House is required to submit its materials to the Synod’s doctrinal review process.
How does the Doctrinal Review process work?
The President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has the responsibility for appointing doctrinal reviewers every three years. He also appoints members of the Commission on Doctrinal Review, which is responsible for establishing processes and procedures for the doctrinal review process as well as dealing with appeals of doctrinal review decisions. All persons who serve as doctrinal reviewers do so on a volunteer basis. Reviewers are chosen from the roster of professional church workers in the Missouri Synod. Concordia Publishing House makes suggestions for reviewers to the Office of the President, and upon appointment, reviewers are assigned to CPH.
During the production process at CPH, a manuscript is sent to a reviewer who remains anonymous to those involved in the writing and editing of the material. The reviewer is given a defined timeframe to complete the review and return the manuscript to Concordia Publishing House, with an indication of any changes that need to be made prior to publishing the material. All material published has successfully passed the final step of a careful review that begins with the work done by the editorial staff at Concordia Publishing House and ends with final certification by the Synod’s doctrinal review process.
What is the benefit of Doctrinal Review?
For all people, but particularly for the churches, schools, and members of the LCMS, the Doctrinal Review process provides the assurance that the materials published by CPH are doctrinally sound and in accordance with the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. This should be a critical factor for all individuals in comparing CPH products with those of other publishers, none of whom can offer the same assurance that is offered by CPH.
Every Roman Catholic jurisdiction as a censor librorum, that is, someone appointed by a bishop or an order to read things before publication and check for doctrinal errors. BTW, in the same view as Missouri's Doctrinal Review process, this is not an editorial position. In other words, those who do this are not charged with the responsibility of an editor -- to clean up style or make improvements or improve flow or clarity. In this respect, their responsibility is rather narrow. Note the words above: the approval of the Church does not mean everything is stated correctly but rather that nothing is stated wrongly and it does not attest to the value of the book.
Perhaps we ought to borrow this in Missouri. Doctrinal Review does not mean that everything is stated as the reviewer would state it or even as the Synod has stated it but that it does not err in what it states. There are many words published that are not worth the paper they are printed on (or the virtual paper, for that matter). But the LCMS process of doctrinal review as well as the Roman Catholic nihil obstat and imprimatur are not conceived of as nets to catch stuff that should not be published. Publishers end up making those decisions largely on the basis of what sells. Here, the LCMS is indebted to CPH for the way it sells things some of us might consider of lesser value, but that have market potential for sales, so that the profits can support the publishing of those things that will never "make money." The CPH catalog is full of things printed for the first time in English or reprinted and CPH knows it will not make a dime on them (neither will the translator or author) but the text is worth the loss. Yet somehow that loss must be covered since the Synod does not subsidize CPH. So lets take a moment to see what Doctrinal Review is and is not, and then pray a prayer of thanksgiving for the great material CPH makes available to the Synod and the wider church without having to worry about whether or not they are profitable. In other words, it is not a flawless system but it seems to work. Rome will have to comment on its own process of doctrinal review. The ELCA has none, to my knowledge.
NB. . . This blog does not go through doctrinal review nor does it bear the nihil obstat or imprimatur of anyone except the author (who generally is satisfied enough about the orthodoxy of his meandering thoughts).