|THE SPIRIT OF RELIGION IN THE LOCAL CHURCH
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Aug 14 2009 08:00 AM
The spirit of religion is the meanest, foulest, most ruthless spirit you will ever confront. (How's that for a beginning?) As
an experienced pastor I can tell you this without equivocation.
HOW TO DESTROY A BRIDGE
From time to time I enjoy watching old war movies. On one particular evening, I became quite interested in the story
line of one of these movies, Force 10 from Navarone. It is about a small group of commandos assigned to go behind
enemy lines during World War II. These men joined with their allies to take out a bridge that their German enemies
planned to use to bring their tanks across. The bridge had been unattainable because of the strong protection around
it. One smart fellow, however, determined that if the dam upstream were to be blown up, it would result in a monumental
flood that would in turn destroy the bridge. The commando unit fought its way into the dam as the explosives expert
carefully set explosives in place. The explosives detonated as the soldiers raced up the surrounding hill to escape,
killing a number of men.
To the dismay of the soldiers, the explosions seemed to have no effect. The dam stood in place. The commandos
began to rail against the expert for setting the charges wrong. The expert calmly told them to watch. As they did, a
rumble was heard, and then plaster began to fall away from the dam's facing. Before long, water began to seep out,
and finally the dam gave way. The subsequent flood destroyed the bridge downstream.
CONFRONTATION WITH THE SPIRIT OF RELIGION
It was at this moment that the Lord spoke to my heart. He said, "When you speak the word I have given you for this
Sunday, it will have the same effect as the floodwater, which destroyed the bridge." I thought, Wow, that's great! Little
did I know what was about to transpire.
The Lord had given me a message about Ahab, Jezebel and the spirit of control. This spirit works in close conjunction
with the religious spirit. In preparing for this word, I had no awareness of a problem in my church. To my way of thinking
it was simply a preventative message. During the message, however, I kept wondering why certain people were staring
at me as if they were angry. After that Sunday, I lost no fewer than 10 families, which at that time represented about 20
percent of our active members!
This was a very enlightening confrontation with the spirit of religion. At first I was downhearted, but I soon realized that it
was for the best. God was faithful to His word, and after that purging, we were able to move forward as a body of
believers in ways that would have been met with stiff opposition had this not taken place. Now, more than a decade
later, I have had several other dealings with this spirit. None of them was pleasant. In fact, all of them were painful. Yet
I have personally grown and matured through the process.
To have any success in dealing with the religious spirit, you must learn to confront it quickly. If you compromise and
allow it to take root, you will grieve the Spirit of God and most likely subject yourself and others to much frustration and
heartache. The longer you wait, the more entrenched the religious spirit becomes. As with Elijah and the prophets of
Baal and Asherah, you may need to confront this spirit with an all-out demonstration of the power of God.
I suggest that once you have decided to confront this spirit, you join yourself in prayer with a trusted group of believers
to call on the Lord. Ask Him to undergird you with His wisdom and strength. Proclaim the Word, employ the power of
the Cross, and begin to take authority over every demonic scheme that has been assigned against you. Give praise
and thanksgiving for the One who is in you and who is greater than anything that is coming against you. Pray - and
then pray some more! Pray before you confront, pray while you confront, and pray after you confront.
THE NATURE OF THE SPIRIT OF RELIGION
During Jesus' earthly stay He encountered the spirit of religion head-on through the Pharisees. He had more than a few
words to say about these men. It is from one of these exchanges that we'll extrapolate some truths about the nature of
spirit that worked through them. Let's look at Jesus' words in Matthew 23.
"Do as I say, not as I do."
The religious spirit is very quick to use its victims to point out the failures and needs of others, while being totally blind to
their own shortcomings. In fact, it often induces people to criticize others in areas that they themselves lack.
A man in leadership at my church once told me that, as a church, we were hearing far too much about the subject of
grace. "What is needed," he said, "is a strong dose of personal discipline and hard work." Discipline and hard work are
virtuous qualities, yet he was the most undisciplined man I knew. For most of his life, he did not have to work hard. By
imposing an unrealistically high standard for others, it gave him the illusion of personal accomplishment.
"Let me hand you another brick."
move them with one of their fingers (Matthew 23:4).
Those with the religious spirit will tend not only to expect more from you than from themselves but also to fail to stoop to
your level and help you out. Sometimes religious leaders fall prey to this by demanding that certain members of their
congregation attend every meeting and every training session with no regard for their stressed-out families. Then they
tell them to be sensitive to their spouse and/or children by spending the appropriate time together.
"Ain't I great!"
garments (Matthew 23:5).
One of the first places that the spirit of religion shows up is among those who seek recognition. This usually happens in
a very subtle way. Most all of us like and appreciate recognition. The question is, Do we need and require that
recognition from others, or are we content to receive it from God in His way and in His time? Whether we seek
recognition for the clothes we wear or the titles we seek, we are all vulnerable to the influence of this spirit. Once
ensnared, a prideful heart can cause others to be fearful should they fail to acknowledge that person's position or value
"Move over! That's my spot!"
called by men, "Rabbi, Rabbi" (Matthew 23:6-7).
Not only does the spirit of religion cause people to seek recognition for what they do, but it also causes people to seek
approval for who they are. A number of years ago I experienced this firsthand, and the lesson I learned was forged
deeply into my soul.
I used to serve as the assistant of the well-known writer and speaker Walter Martin. He would be asked to speak before
huge assemblies, and he was deeply respected for his knowledge. While working with him, I had the privilege of
spending a great deal of time with him.
One time we were at a well-known church. Martin was set to speak at this large gathering, but he first spent some time
with the pastor in his study to pray. I proceeded to go down to the roped-off area designated for the speaker and other
pastors. Since I assumed that everyone obviously should know of my importance, I simply removed the rope and sat
down. I was aware of many eyes looking at me, wondering who this important fellow could be. Before long, I heard
footsteps behind me approaching my location. An imposing looking deacon stood before me. He simply said, "Sir, you'll
have to move now. These seats are reserved for the pastors." The same eyes that viewed me taking a seat now
watched as I sheepishly got up and moved to the back. As I walked that ever-so-long walk up the aisle, I heard the
words of the Lord saying, "If you are invited to a wedding feast, don't always head for the best seat. What if someone
more respected than you has also been invited? The host will say, 'Let this person sit here instead.' Then you will be
embarrassed and will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table! Do this instead - sit at the foot of the
table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, 'Friend, we have a better place than this for you!' Then
you will be honored in front of all the other guests" (Luke 14:8-10, NLT).
It was only later that I realized that I had been victimized by the spirit of religion.
"We've never done it that way before, and we're not going to start now!"
neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in (Matthew 23:13).
Up to this point Jesus had described the inner character of those whose are under the influence of the religious spirit.
Then He began to examine how this spirit manifests itself outwardly against others. The first four statements show how
prideful this spirit is. But now we begin to see it's poisonous results. The Bible states, "Out of the abundance of the
heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34). The abundance of pride now seeks to put a stop to anything or anyone who
would dare suggest that something or someone other than itself should run the show. Herein is another key to
identifying the religious spirit at work: It will always seek to stop the work of the Holy Spirit. And the reason is simple: If
the Holy Spirit is in charge, the spirit of religion is not!
When the Holy Spirit is in charge, we still need great wisdom in initiating the new and innovative directions that He gives
us. When we head into new directions, we go against the status quo, so we need wisdom and courage as we go
forward. Jesus brought about a break with tradition by relieving His disciples of the responsibility of fasting. When He
was questioned about their failure to fast, Jesus responded by saying, "No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old
garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do people put new wine into old
wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new
wineskins, and both are preserved" (Matthew 9:16-17). With those words Jesus offered sound advice on how to bring
(and also how not to bring) the new into the old: The new must be carried in new wineskins.
I know of an evangelical church where the leadership wanted to embrace more of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church
body. Matthew 9:16-17 became the leaders' model for bringing this change, and they sought for a wise and loving way
to do so. Their church was quite traditional, and many of the members would not easily receive such a change. At the
time, the church had a poorly attended midweek service. The leaders chose this service to be the new wineskin to allow
the Holy Spirit to move with greater freedom. Rather than bringing this change into the main Sunday services and risk
the possibility of tearing apart the church, the leadership instead wisely brought it to the midweek service. Over time the
number of people who attended the midweek service grew larger than the number who attended the regular Sunday
morning services. Those who participated on Wednesday began to spill in to the regular Sunday morning services.
Through time and patience the pastor led this growing congregation and their newfound freedom in the Spirit to find a
balanced and scriptural place within the life of the church body. As I have already written, the religious spirit is dead-set
against the work of the Holy Spirit. Those who are under demonic influence will always oppose God's purposes. They
will always seek to undermine any leader who attempts to bring the fresh wind of His presence into the Body of Christ.
Many a battle has been lost at this juncture. The very breath of the Bride will be extinguished if the spirit of religion has
Having said that, I need to make it clear that not all resistance to the initiatives of leadership is the result of the religious
spirit. Sometimes impatience or lack of wisdom on the part of a leader can cause much unnecessary upheaval within
church life. Prayer, patience, and submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit are imperative both for the leaders who
implement change and for those who confront the religious spirit.
In addition, we need to be aware that in our opposing what we believe to be the religious spirit, we might inadvertently
be used by this spirit in our dealings with others. For example, we might actually find ourselves using control and
manipulation against someone whom we feel is being used as a puppet by that very same spirit. In Matthew 7:3-5 we
are warned of this danger:
you say to your brother, "Let me remove the speck out of your eye"; and look, a plank is in your own eye?
Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of
your brother's eye.
Once we Christian leaders discern how the spirit of religion is operating in a particular situation, we confront it. Through
much prayer and courageous action, we must pursue this spirit's defeat, no matter the cost. During World War II
France made the mistake of compromising with Hitler. France was almost immediately occupied, and the people lost
their freedom. The same thing can happen in the local church, so we must not compromise with the spirit of religion.
There can only be either liberty or bondage - and nothing in between.
"Come into my parlor," said the spider to the fly.
prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation (Matthew 23:14).
Taking advantage of the helpless condition of widows, the Pharisees, who excelled in being led by the spirit of religion,
contrived unethical means to steal their homes and their livelihood, all this while uttering great and influential prayers.
The spirit of religion is, at its heart, self-centered and greedy. It seeks its own welfare and will ride over anyone who
gets in its way, while all the way sounding spiritual. Those under its influence will pervert God's will and twist His Word to
achieve their own selfish goals.
I once walked in on a church meeting in which I saw the visiting minister holding up nails for the congregation to see. He
said that these nails, which he had found on a recent trip to Jerusalem, "could be the actual nails from our dear Savior's
cross." He suggested to the very elderly audience that they should bring forth their social security checks and endorse
them to his ministry. He assured them that they would find greater security in "holding close to their heart" one of their
Savior's nails. Several widows actually came forward! This made me detest the spirit of religion even more than I had
"Oh, that I were made judge in the land."
won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves (Matthew 23:15).
We can see the characteristic that Jesus exposed here very clearly illustrated in II Samuel 15. David had initially turned
against his son Absalom for avenging the death of Absalom's sister Tamar. In time Absalom was permitted back to the
palace, but not before bitterness had set in to Absalom's heart. And in keeping with the nature of the religious spirit, he
began to look for ways to draw attention to himself and eventually to take control, overthrowing his father.
Here is the story: "After this it happened that Absalom provided himself with chariots and horses, and fifty men to run
before him. Now Absalom would rise early and stand beside the way to the gate. So it was, whenever anyone who had
a lawsuit came to the king for a decision, that Absalom would call to him and say, 'what city are you from?' And he
would say, 'Your servant is from such and such a tribe of Israel.' Then Absalom would say to him, 'Look, your case is
good and right; but there is no deputy of the king to hear you.' Moreover Absalom would say, 'Oh, that I were made
judge in the land, and everyone who has any suit or cause would come to me; then I would give him justice.' And so it
was, whenever anyone came near him to bow down to him, that he would put out his hand and take him and kiss him. In
this manner Absalom acted toward all Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men
of Israel" (II Samuel 15:1-6).
Absalom's actions that are narrated in II Samuel 15 are characteristic of people under the influence of the spirit of
religion. The following are indicative of people who harbor this spirit:
"Here, swallow another camel."
neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without
leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24).
Those who are influenced by the religious spirit have a way of majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors.
Failing to see the bigger picture of advancing the kingdom of God, they prefer to argue over the color of the carpeting
or to threaten mutiny should you dare have the audacity to move the organ over to the other side of the sanctuary. To
them, tradition and image are everything. In their eyes, the poor are a disgrace to the community, and the wounded
and hurting must have somehow come into disfavor with the Lord. They fail to perceive why anyone would want to go
to, what they consider to be, a God-forsaken country, such as India or Somalia, when there are needs in their own
backyard. They're proud of their tithe, and they expect an equal voice on how the church should be run. They are
impatient with members in need, thinking that they should have been more careful with their finances.
"Hand me another rock to throw."
monuments of the righteous, and say, "If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been
partakers with them in the blood of the prophets." Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are
sons of those who murdered the prophets (Matthew 23:29-31).
Aside from seeking to quench the work of the Holy Spirit, the religious spirit also wants to kill off prophets. Prophets
have an uncanny way of pointing out the truth. True prophets seek to do this without bringing undue focus on
themselves, and they always want to build up the Body of Christ.
The prophetic voice is essential to a healthy growing church. It is a confirming gift that reaffirms God's Word and His
direction. So I find it hard to understand why some people today reject the ministry of prophets - except to attribute it to
the influence of the religious spirit. The religious spirit is unsettled when people rely on the Holy Spirit, because when
they do, it threatens to expose this spirit's insidious nature and undermine its base of power and influence. In order to
prevent this threat from becoming reality, the religious spirit seeks to undermine, discourage, and destroy those who
seek to speak words of life.
Many times I have seen Spirit-led disciples be severely attacked by those who have the spirit of religion. A young
couple that joined the church that I pastored is one example. Both the husband and the wife gave their hearts to the
Lord during a large evangelism service that came to the city. After meeting the Lord, they wanted only to serve Him with
all their hearts. They shared their faith with everyone they could and were always ready to volunteer their time. This
young couple's enthusiasm was a threat for one of our more seasoned saints, who had long since allowed himself to
become hardened and bitter toward anyone more alive than he. As the pastor, I was required to intervene more than
once to confront that spirit in this brother who once had been very much alive, and to encourage the young couple.
Consistent with their hearts of love for the Lord, this couple made a point to pray for and bless the brother who had
WHAT MUST WE DO?
Now that we know what the spirit of religion looks like and how it behaves in a local church situation, an important
question remains: What are we to do about it? As I explained in the beginning of this chapter, the religious spirit is one
of the most diabolical forces opposing the Body of Christ. It is bold, intimidating and ruthless. When it is present, it calls
for a courageous leader to step forward.
The difficult nature of this spirit is that it hates to be revealed. The people who are under its influence will go to great
lengths to avoid any outward wrongdoing or weakness of character. When confronted, they attempt to make the
confronters feel judgmental and divisive. As I stated before, if you allow this spirit room to operate and you fail to
confront it, you will be in for a terrible time. As hard as it might be to deal with the spirit of religion, it must be done, or
you will only face heartache down the road.
THE PRIORITY OF PRAYER
The first order of business is prayer. In the same manner that rain eventually softens dry, hardened dirt, so intense
intercession will soften the hardened resistance of those who are in bondage to the religious spirit to confront the spirit.
If their hearts fail to change, then the church leadership needs to do whatever is required to remove them from any
position that could harm the congregation. The religious spirit will cause relationships to decay and will eventually bring
about factions within the local church.
A THREE-STEP PROCESS TOWARD FREEDOM
Let's assume that a fruitful confrontation has taken place, humility prevails, and those who recognize the influence of
the religious spirit in them desire deliverance. What, then, is the process? In Cleansing Stream Ministries, we have
found that all deliverance,including deliverance from the spirit of religion, requires three steps, which may be summed
up with three words:
We have found that, when dealing with the religious spirit, the repentance step will frequently involve repenting in areas
of unforgiveness and participation in occult activity. Often, before coming to Christ, people are involved in the occult;
and even uninformed believers may dabble in astrology, ouija boards or another activity associated with the occult.
Generational iniquity often needs to be repented of, renounced and broken as well. This includes those in their family
line who gave in to the religious spirit. Because of their failure to repent and remove the legal ground that they gave to
the spirit, that spirit tends to seek a victim within the same family blood line with which to partner.
I have seen many cases in which individuals, who went by themselves before God with sincere and humble hearts,
received deliverance. Others desire to submit themselves to church leadership and walk through the process of
deliverance with them. While affirming the possibility of self-deliverance, I recommend involving the church leadership if
at all possible.
I want to make this as simple of a process as I can. I have written a series of statements that can be used in
deliverance. They can be read by individuals for self-deliverance or by church leadership, with the individuals repeating
Repent and Renounce
I repent and renounce every opening, known or unknown, that I have given to a religious spirit in my family line.
Personal Entry Points
I repent and renounce every opening, known or unknown, that I have given to a religious spirit, and every work or
darkness connected with it.
I repent for not fully receiving Your love, compassion, mercy, grace, and forgiveness; and I renounce any belief that
You, Lord, are distant and judgmental. I choose to embrace all aspects of Your character and to intimately know You.
I repent for allowing myself to be led by any other spirit than the Holy Spirit.
I repent for relying on my own intellect in worship, praise, prayer, reading of the Word and spiritual warfare.
I repent and renounce all legalism, traditions and religious formulas.
I repent and renounce all participation in dead works.
I repent and renounce all dullness to the things of God.
I repent and renounce hardness of heart.
I choose for the oil of Your Holy Spirit to flow across my heart.
I repent and renounce placing man's opinion of me above Yours.
I repent and renounce compromises: of the truth, of my integrity and of my purity.
I repent and renounce all compromises in my attitude toward sin.
I repent for my lack of transparency:
I repent and renounce all deception and hypocrisy.
I repent and renounce all pride, arrogance and self-righteousness.
I repent and renounce all comparison, judgement, criticism, gossip, jealousy, covetousness, and anger.
I repent and renounce all persecution and slander of those moving in the Holy Spirit.
I repent and renounce every act of rebellion that has reinforced the spirit of religion in my life.
I choose to have obedience as my heart attitude.
I choose to no longer partner with the same spirit that killed Jesus and that continues to attempt to kill the work of the
Holy Spirit today.
I choose to no longer oppose God.
Spirit of religion, as the Body of Christ, I and those with me come against you:
Once you and your congregation, with all sincerity, humility and submission to Christ, go through this list of statements
and declarations, you can be assured that the religious spirit, no matter how deeply it has been imbedded, will leave.
You will then be free to move powerfully into the destiny that God has for you and your church.
FREEDOM FROM THE RELIGIOUS SPIRIT, by C. Peter Wagner, Copyright 2005, Regal Books.
|LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES