The title of today’s sermon comes from Jesus’ words:
Matthew 23:2-3 The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' Seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do.
The question arises, “Does the ministry of the Church of God sit in Moses’ Seat today, and must the brethren do everything they tell you to do?” Does the ministry make the rules and call the shots? Is Jesus telling us today that those who sit in Moses’ Seat have carte blanche freedom to demand obedience from one and all? Too many assume that the scribes and Pharisees, and subsequently the ministry today, are the inheritors of a godly authority to rule as they see fit – and a cursory reading of this King James Translation seems to support that conjecture. In the Worldwide Church of God and some of its branches today, the ministry believes that they have the authority to rule in the Church in this same way – and whatever they stipulate – it must be observed. We live by every word of God, so it behooves us to know what the intent of Jesus’ command means.
In the Greek, the word for seat is kathedra, and mainly because of its use here, it has taken on the connotation of “seat of authority.” Our English word ‘Cathedral’ carries the idea of ‘church authority.’ The phrase, ‘Ex cathedra’ is Latin for “from the chair.” Roman Catholics believe that the pope speaks infallibly when speaking ‘ex cathedra’ on questions of faith or morals, such as when Pope Pius XII declared in 1950 that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was physically taken up to heaven after her death. Catholics have to believe Mary is in heaven because it was spoken “from the chair.”
What is the role of a minister of Jesus Christ today? The apostle Paul said that the work of a minister in the Church is to serve the brethren in Godly love and to feed, nourish, protect, and care for the flock of God.
There remains a genuine need for ministers of Jesus Christ who preach and teach the Truth… to counsel according to the word of God... to marry… to bury… to visit the sick and to anoint with oil… to facilitate the ministry of reconciliation… to return those who have gone astray... for the laying on of hands, and baptizing those whom God calls… and there are Feasts to administer, babies to bless, and the Gospel to warn the world, etc.
The apostle Peter warned the ministers to never use coercion or constraint in their teaching and care of the flock. (1Peter 5:2) A true minister of Jesus Christ must never exercise dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith you stand (2Corinthians 1:24). A minister can do only what God has already commanded. We, the people of God, live by, and are bound by the rules of the Kingdom of God – even now.
Brethren were taught incorrectly that the ministry could rule over their lives and that if the ministry made a mistake – it was really not a mistake because God would set it right. Ministers made decisions in families’ lives that should only have been made by the head of the family. Too many ministers taught that their decisions – good or bad – were permitted and approved by God's authority. That is not the way it works. Please understand this: No minister is ever above God’s law.
When a minister sins, he is not under the auspices, nor does he have the backing or approval of, God’s authority. God’s authority, which begins with God the Father and flows down through Jesus Christ, extends to every member of the entire body of the Church of God – but not through any minister. Many brethren have been led to believe that organizational “Church authority” is merely God’s authorization, exercised and administered by the ministry. That is not the case. Ministers cannot be hard taskmasters who demand obedience to themselves.
Brethren have been told that their salvation was at stake if they did not yield to every whim of the Pastor, because he represents God on earth. That is a false teaching. We have got to get back to the truth of God. There is no man between a Church member and Jesus Christ. Our loyalty is to Jesus Christ and His Father – anything less constitutes idolatry. Jesus is our advocate…
1John 2:1 We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
1Timothy 2:5 There is one God, and
one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
God rules in our lives as His Spirit leads us. Nothing, or no one is able to supersede that relationship (Romans 8:14). Is there a proper place for the ministry of Jesus Christ? The answer is an unequivocal, Yes! Every day we are faced with decisions of ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ How can we be sure that we are pleasing in God’s sight? John gives us the answer:
1John 3:22 Whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
When we remain under God’s authority – defined by His Law and His Commands, we can be sure that we are acting on His behalf. However, anytime anyone infringes upon any of God’s laws, statutes, judgments or perfect way, they have stepped away from God, and are not acting on His behalf, no matter how important and highly esteemed they might think they are.
Here is how to understand Matthew 23:1-2 E. W. Bullinger has for sit, “have taken their seat” upon Moses seat. This is the intent of these two verses:
“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat upon Moses seat and now, all which [Moses] says unto you, observe and do; but do not ye after their works: because they say, and do not.”
We should note a clear distinction between what he [Moses] says and what they (the scribes and the Pharisees) say. We are to follow a minister's faith only as it complements and corresponds to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Paul updated this instruction for us:
1Corinthians 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.