In Mathew 23:1-3 Jesus says (paraphrase), “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: therefore, do all that they tell you to do; but don’t behave the way they do, for they don’t follow their own teachings.” There are several points here to reflect on.
1) Jesus was not anti-religion, he was anti-hypocrisy. Jesus followed his Jewish religion perfectly (unlike the hypocrites). Jesus never said he came to abolish religion. Jesus came to fulfill the Jewish religion, not to get rid of it. When people say, “Religion is bad but Jesus is good,” they are mistaken. Jesus is good and so is his religion.
2) Jesus recognized and validated the office held by the scribes and the Pharisees. God established the seat of Moses. It was an office of authority. An earthly person (Moses) held an office of God-given authority. Furthermore, that office had successors. The scribes and the Pharisees had God-given authority because they were the successors of Moses, not because they were good men. What we see here is the biblical principle that it is God, not men that establishes and preserves the earthly office of authority. Men behaving badly can still validly occupy an office of God-given authority and use that authority to establish and teach doctrines and traditions (binding and loosing). Jesus teaches obedience to men who sit on a seat authorized directly by God.
3) The teachings of the scribes and Pharisees were not made invalid by their hypocrisy. Notice that Jesus did not say, “Rebel against and disobey the scribes and Pharisees because they are hypocrites who won’t even follow their own teachings.” Quite the opposite was true. Jesus taught obedience to their God-given authority.
4) The scribes and Pharisees “made the word of God of no effect” through their tradition (Mark 7:13). Having the tradition wasn’t the problem. Their attitude was the problem. They “rejected the commandment of God” (verse 9). Tradition is good if one is not rejecting the commandment of God. After all, Jesus and his family followed Jewish tradition. They were religious! One can take most any religious tradition and either glorify God or reject God through that tradition. It’s about one’s attitude.
5) As stated above, Jesus validated the seat of Moses as an earthly authority from God. In fact, he liked the idea so much that he fulfilled and perfected it for the New Covenant by creating the chair of Peter. Again, God protects this office and provides successors for it. Even a scoundrel of a pope cannot negate the authority of this office. God protects the official teachings of the Church from error through the Holy Spirit, not through the impeccable behavior of men. That is what the infallibility of the papacy means. The same Holy Spirit that keeps error out of the Bible also protects the papacy. God the Father directly authorized the seat of Moses. God the Son directly authorized the Chair of Peter.
6) Protestantism has the Bible, but it has no seat of earthly authority like the seat of Moses or the Chair of Peter. This is, ironically, unbiblical. The rejection of God-given Church authority has resulted in division and a multitude of opposing doctrines. It is popular today to claim Jesus while rejecting religious authority. Jesus taught the opposite. To obey the God-given seat of authority is to obey God. Obey Jesus by obeying his Church.
7) Catholicism does not create traditions of men that “make the word of God of no effect.” Read the Catholic Catechism honestly and you will discover that Church teachings flow from and compliment the Scriptures. The Bible and Sacred Tradition are both apostolic. They go together.
8) Catholicism does not “heap heavy burdens upon men that even the religious leaders can’t bear.” Read the Catholic Catechism and you will discover that Church teachings are about holiness and a relationship with Jesus, not legalistic rules and regulations. There is nothing about being Catholic that “can’t be done” by the clergy or by the laity. There may be things people don’t want to do, but that’s all about attitude and obedience. If you live a Catholic life with the proper attitude you will grow ever closer to Christ. Catholicism is all about receiving the grace of Jesus and sharing him with the world and with each other.