Have you noticed that preachers don’t preach from Matthew 23? They dare not because in it Jesus lists the sins of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. Those sins and more are still committed by religious leaders till today — not all of them (most are good people) but there will always be rotten apples or rotten ways even among the religious.
These like to impress, seek the best seats, be greeted ceremoniously, are very money-minded, are greedy and self-indulgent, metaphorically blind in some ways and etc, etc, etc (read Matt 23!). Nowadays, there are even predators among them — paedophiles — and adulterers. Some don’t commit adultery physically, but indulge — sometimes from the pulpit — in their secret desires.
What about the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees that irked the ire of our Lord that he used some of the severest language he has ever used on them? Was it because they sinned, like the rest of us? That, I think, isn’t the issue. Everyone sins and in Christ we have the privilege of confession and the grace of forgiveness. No, Jesus was furious because they “don’t do what they preach” (Matt 23: 3).
For Jesus, that was a more serious sin than their shortcomings. Because the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees didn’t do what they preached, Jesus called them hypocrites, blind guides who are like whitewashed tombs — beautiful on the outside but dead and unclean inside — snakes, a brood of vipers and even murderers.
They did all these things and got away with it while they laid a heavy burden on the rest who sinned. Such hypocrisy exists till today. If they were outright bad people, we can dismiss them as such. But, most of the time, they are good people with some bad behaviours which for some reason they can’t change. That is when followers have a problem following such leaders.
If we have such leaders, we need to remind ourselves of what our Lord said in Matt 23: 2-3 that the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat (meaning they have the Word of God) and so we should listen to what they say. But, Jesus, qualifies, and tells his disciples: “do not do what they do” (Matt 23: 3).
In other words, do not recognise such leaders as role models; we don’t have to follow in their footsteps. To be a role model and a Christian one, we have to practise what we preach. We have to show that we can face up to our weaknesses and let Christ’s redeeming grace change us for the better. If leaders don’t demonstrate the power of redeeming grace, why should their followers follow them? We may listen to what they are saying but we don’t have to do like they do.
Mature Christians would be able to listen to offending leaders and not follow them. They may even approach the leaders and try to reason with him or her about the issue. If there is no change, they may opt to leave. Those who lose faith certainly do.
It is difficult to stay in a church whose leaders disappoint you and who just can’t find the faith to change. That means they would be unable to help others deal with their shortcomings. Isn’t that what redeeming grace is all about?
When people leave a church because of the leadership, it is a sign that the leaders should take stock of themselves, and start making amends.