In early February, it came to my attention that Dr. Martin R. Noland, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Evansville, IN, refers to Arthur Carl Piepkorn in “Contemporary Challenges to Laymen’s Rights: The Blue Ribbon Proposal,” a speech that Noland has delivered on several occasions. (Parts of it were published on pages 14-15 in the November 9, 2009, issue of a journal that will not be named here.)
In section G. of the speech, Noland describes what he calls the “‘High Priest’ Idea” as
“the Roman Catholic idea that the pastor is the authority in the church over both spiritual and temporal affairs, because of his ordination, call, or ministerial status. I am calling this the ‘high priest’ idea, since a high priest claims more status than a common priest. I believe that this idea took root in the 1950s due to the teaching and influence of Arthur Carl Piepkorn. Richard John Neuhaus, who later joined the Roman Catholic Church, acknowledged that his biggest theological influence was Piepkorn.”
I sent the first sentence to my former colleague at St. Anselm College, a very competent Roman Catholic theologian with a doctorate from the Institut Catholique in Paris. He denied that what Nolan calls the “‘High Priest’ Idea” is a Roman Catholic idea or teaching, adding that a priest has “the final responsibility for the institutional health of the parish properties,” but that is only by canon law (rather than “because of his ordination, call, or ministerial status”).
In a footnote Noland documents Piepkorn’s influence on Neuhaus with a citation from Neuhaus in First Things, and a statement from James Nuechterlein. Noland adds that “Piepkorn was the leader of what became known as the ‘evangelical-catholic’ movement in the LCMS.”
In the next paragraph Noland asserts that “One of the manifestations of this movement is the tendency to call our district presidents ‘bishop’ or our pastors ‘father.’ Those terms carry significant freight with them, and should be avoided by Lutherans.”
Disregarding the fact that the Lutheran Symbolical Books are willing to accept bishops, and even the Pope by human rather than divine right, and the fact that Martin Luther was called “Father” throughout his life, what Noland says gives the impression that Piepkorn may have taught or approved of the idea “that the pastor is the authority in the church over both spiritual and temporal affairs, because of his ordination, call, or ministerial status.”
To Noland’s credit, he has had the following correction published: “Although I have found no evidence that Piepkorn himself would have approved of the Roman Catholic idea of priesthood, many of his disciples, and their disciples, became enamored of all things [Roman] Catholic, thus fulfilling Herman Sasse’s warning that the ‘high church’ approach to worship could lead to a change in future generations’ doctrine.” (March 1, 2010, p. 15 of the same journal.) In the same speech, Noland tries to connect the “‘High Priest’ Idea” with the “Transforming Churches Network” (previously called the “Transforming Congregations Networ”), but the TCN nowhere asserts that “the pastor is the authority in the church over both spiritual and temporal affairs, because of his ordination, call, or ministerial status.”
Indeed, the TCN program assumes that the pastor does not have authority over the temporal affairs of the congregation unless the congregations gives him that authority, and adds that the congregation could take that authority back at any time.