|THE RELIGIOUS SPIRIT: THE CORPORATE SPIRIT OF RELIGION
C. Peter Wagner
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Jul 03 2009 08:00 AM
WHAT DO WE KNOW?
What do we, as the Body of Christ, currently know about the spirit of religion?
We know that it is bad. We know that we don’t like it. We know that we must break or loose it. We know that we must
warn others against it. But we don’t know much else.
One of our problems is that “spirit of religion” is not a biblical term. You can’t find it in the concordance. That does not
imply, of course, that it is not a useful term. When you think of it, you can’t find “Trinity” or “abortion” or “Christmas” in
the concordance either, just to cite a few examples, but they are good words that we frequently use. Even the word
“religion,” by itself, appears only two times in the Bible. Once it refers to Judaism (see Acts 26:5) and the other simply
tells us that true religion, like true faith, is accompanied by works (see James 1:26-27).
Because of this shortage of explicit biblical information on the spirit of religion, we must depend, more than with some
other subjects on seeking God’s fresh revelation. If the Spirit is saying to the churches that we must increase our
awareness of the spirit of religion, which I believe He is, God will supernaturally show us the direction we need to take.
A DEFINITION OF “THE SPIRIT OF RELIGION”
It is good to start out with a working definition, so I’ll suggest one. As I have studied this for some time now, I have come
to the conclusion that the spirit of religion is an agent of Satan assigned to prevent change and to maintain the
status quo by using religious devices.
Many people use the term “religious spirit” as a synonym for “the spirit of religion,” and the terms are used
interchangeably in this book. I am aware that some argue that there should be a technical distinction between the two,
and they may be right. However I have chosen to take the more simplified approach, at least for the moment.
I’m using the terms “religion” and “religious” in the common sense of the words, namely beliefs and activities involved in
relating to superhuman or supernatural beings or forces.
Knowing what we already know about the invisible world of darkness from what we read in Scripture, we can safely
surmise certain things. For example, there certainly must be many spirits of religion, not just one. Consequently, our
term “the spirit of religion” should be understood as a generic term, embracing however many of these demons there
might actually be.
Now, in order to paint the big picture, I am going to use my imagination a bit. In doing so, I want to identify with Paul, who
said at one point concerning a certain matter that “…I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as
one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.” (I Corinthians 7:25). The other authors in this book and I
certainly are not writing about the spirit of religion with the authority of biblical revelation, yet we do believe that we have
clearly heard from the Lord on the matter. With that disclaimer, here then is my hypothesis. I want it to be seen as my
personal attempt to explain a rather complex state of affairs in as simple language as possible.
THE LUCIFERIAN DEPARTMENT OF RELIGION
Let’s imagine that Satan’s kingdom has something like a Luciferian Department of Religion and that there are two major
divisions of that department: the Division of Non-Christian Religions and the Division of Christendom.
The Division of Non-Christian Religions
One of the devices that Satan uses to keep unsaved people from being saved is the spirit of religion. The issue for this
religious spirit, which is in charge of controlling the Division of Non-Christian Religions, would be allegiance. In other
words, the spirit is concerned about to whom a particular individual or a group gives allegiance. Keep in mind that the
spirit of religion most of the time attempts to preserve the status quo. In this case, it uses religion to keep people from
switching their allegiance to Jesus Christ. That is to say, it devises strategies to keep Moroccans committed to Allah or
Japanese committed to the Sun Goddess or Thai people committed to Buddha or the Aymaras of the Andes committed
to Inti, just to choose a few random examples.
The Division of Christendom
Let's also assume that there are two offices in the Division of Christendom.
The first office could be an Office of Personal Religious Security. The religious spirit overseeing this office would
primarily target individuals; its central issues are either salvation or fullness. The spirit of religion's primary strategy
here is to promote the idea that belonging to a Christian church or doing religious things is what saves you. It succeeds
if it can, for example, persuade Catholics to think that they can be saved by lighting candles to Mary, or Baptists to think
that they can be saved by going to church every Sunday and by carrying a Bible, or Lutherans to think they are saved if
they have been baptized and confirmed.
If the personal spirit of religion is unsuccessful in preventing an individual from being saved, it then tries to keep that
person from experiencing the fullness of salvation. It does not allow believers to move on to receive the filling of the
Holy Spirit or freedom in Christ, or to enter into God's full destiny for their lives. Paul specifically warns that the devil, by
his craftiness, can corrupt minds and keep them from "the simplicity that is in Christ" (II Corinthians 11:3).
The second Christendom-related office could be an Office of Corporate Church Structure. Here the spirit of religion
targets the religious power brokers, who determine the destiny of whole organizations, such as denominations. The
central issue is God's new times and seasons. The demonic strategy behind this is to preserve the status quo through
adhering to what the Bible calls the tradition of the elders (see Matthew 15:2 and Mark 7:5).
THE CORPORATE SPIRIT OF RELIGION
That brings us to the subject of the rest of this chapter, namely what I think we might call the corporate spirit of religion.
The authors of others chapters in this book will analyze and elaborate on many other manifestations of the spirit of
religion. However, because in my personal area of ministry I deal constantly with hearing what the Spirit is saying to the
churches collectively about new times and seasons, this corporate manifestation is the one I have been faced with the
most. This is the only chapter in this book that specifically addresses the issue of the corporate spirit of religion.
Understanding the corporate spirit of religion is extremely important because we now live in the Second Apostolic Age
(which I date as beginning in 2001) and we are currently witnessing the most radical change in the way of doing church
since the Protestant Reformation. That is why I like to call what we are seeing the New Apostolic Reformation.
So how do we handle radical changes like this?
The most radical change recorded in the Bible was the change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. When
Jesus addressed the disciples of John the Baptist, the last prominent representative of the Old Covenant, he used the
terminology "old wineskin" and "new wineskin" (see Matthew 9:16-17). Jesus said that when God has new wine for His
people, He pours it only into new wineskins. He doesn't pour it into old wineskins (Which at one time, of course, were
His new wineskins), because He loves them and He doesn't want to destroy them.
The change from an old wineskin to a new wineskin, such as the New Apostolic Reformation, always meets powerful
resistance. However, the resistance does not come from the anointed leaders of the old wineskin. For instance, John
the Baptist blessed the new wineskin saying, "[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). He said, "He
who is coming after me is mightier than I" (Matthew 3:11). Nicodemus and Gamaliel would be other examples of
anointed old-wineskin leaders.
No, the opposition to God's new changes always comes from the unanointed leaders of the old wineskin. For example,
the attitude of the Pharisees was the opposite of John the Baptist's attitude. The Pharisees ended up killing Jesus!
The last thing they were willing to do was to decrease and thereby lose the position of power that they were enjoying in
the old wineskin.
What is going on? I see this as nothing less than the operation of a demonic force that I have been calling the
corporate spirit of religion. It is a device of Satan. As I have already written, we must never allow ourselves to be
ignorant of his devices. Therefore, let's try to understand this demonic spirit as well as possible.
THE ISSUE IS THE MIND
Daniel 2:21 tells us, "[God] changes the times and the season." Part of the character of God, then, is to continually
produce new wine and to provide new wineskins for it. But Satan, of course, does not like that a bit, and later in the
same book of Daniel, Satan reveals his purposes through the "fourth beast" who, according to the text, "And he shall
speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out (persecute) the saints of the most High, and think to
change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time." (Daniel 7:
25). What God designs for His glory and the advance of His kingdom, Satan constantly attacks in order to turn it back
What device does Satan use to attempt to roll back God's new times and seasons? Look at the phrase "persecute the
saints." The Aramaic word for "persecute" is belah, which means to "wear out" the mind. In other words, the corporate
spirit of religion, as Satan's agent in this case, does not play so much on the heart or on the emotions or on personal
holiness or on the fruit of the Spirit, but rather on the mind. Religious leaders can actually be living holy lives and still
be under the influence of the spirit of religion. It causes people, especially religious power brokers, to think the wrong
This implies that the way we can best neutralize the power of the spirit of religion is to be "transformed by the renewing
of [our] mind, the [we] may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2, emphasis
added). A key to combating the religious spirit, then, is sound teaching, which helps people get their minds straight.
Paul, for example, strongly urged Timothy to be a good soldier and not to entangle himself with the affairs of this life.
Notice his admonition to Timothy: "You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (II Timothy 2:
3). Part of being a good soldier is getting your mind straight. This will combat the attacks of the spirit of religion.
FOUR CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CORPORATE SPIRIT OF RELIGION
If you have been an active believer for some time, chances are that you have come up against the corporate spirit of
religion. Consequently, you may recognize these four characteristics.
other principalities that are named in Scripture, such as Wormwood (see Revelation 8:11), Beelzebub (see Luke
11:15), the prince of Greece (see Daniel 10:20) and the queen of heaven (see Jeremiah 7:18).
invade individuals, such as a spirit of rejection, a spirit of trauma, a spirit of lust or a personal religious spirit, all
need to be cast out of its victims through deliverance ministry. Instead, the assignment of the corporate spirit of
religion is collective. It casts a spell over the leaders of whole segments of God's people. This, for example, is
reflected in Galatians 3:1: "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth...?"
That word "bewitched" is a very strong word. The Galatians as a whole church were under the spell of the
corporate spirit of religion. They hesitated to move into God's new times and seasons for them. In this case the
spell, which is a form of curse, needs to be renounced and broken through the blood of Jesus by the
spiritual authorities over the group. Then they can be transformed by the renewing of their minds, as it says
in Romans 12:2. If they are not willing to do this, the spell will not leave, and individuals whose minds are
renewed will be advised to leave the group.
write on walls or move furniture around the room. People under its influence have no clue to its existence. In
fact, the corporate spirit of religion succeeds in making them think that they are actually doing God's will! For
example, the Pharisees said to Jesus, in good faith: "Look, why do [your disciples, who were picking grain on the
Sabbath] do what is not lawful?" (Mark 2:24). And "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?
For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread" (Matthew 15:2). The Pharisees had elevated the tradition
of the elders into a place equal to Scripture, believing that they were serving God by doing this.
for new times and seasons. A good case in point is Peter. When he was with Jesus in Caesarea
Philippi, he had one of his best days one morning and one of his worst days the same afternoon. He started off
by declaring that Jesus was "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). Jesus' encouraging
response was, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My
Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17). That was a really good day for Peter.
times and seasons would change for the disciples. Peter didn't like that. He preferred the status quo and he told
Jesus so in no uncertain terms. Look at Jesus' response: "Get behind Me, Satan!" (verse 23). Peter had done a
180 within a matter of hours, and Jesus traced Peter's statement to the realm of darkness. Jesus continued, "You
are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." (verse 23). I don't
think it would be stretching things too far to suppose that Satan's agent for making Peter, who was spokesperson
for the group, think the wrong way that afternoon would be the corporate spirit of religion.
THE MODUS OPERANDI
Jesus tells us seven times in the book of Revelation that we need to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. The
tense of the verb "say" is present tense, not past tense, which means that the Holy Spirit is still speaking. What the Holy
Spirit said to the churches then is vitally important for us to hear today. Much of it is found on the inspired pages of
Scripture, but the Spirit did not stop speaking when the canon of the Bible was concluded. The Holy Spirit continually
speaks new things that we should not only hear, but also obey.
However, the corporate spirit of religion does not want us to hear these new things from God. How does this demon
keep us from it? Belah! It tries to wear us out mentally, so much that we cannot hear. We become spiritually
insensitive. When the Holy Spirit speaks to us about a new wineskin, the corporate spirit of religion springs into action
among the leaders of the old wineskin. It manipulates the minds of religious power brokers to emphasize what the Spirit
said (past tense) to them back in the days when they were leaders of a new wineskin.
Let's take for example the Holy Spirit's move of recognizing the contemporary offices of prophet and apostle. Some old
wineskin leaders might reject the idea of apostolic authority and leadership because they already are committed to
church structures that emphasize democratic power sharing and decision making. They might conclude that since
democracy worked in the past, it will always work. This prevents them from moving into God's new times and seasons. I
have seen things like this happen time and time again.
In order to accomplish its purposes, the corporate spirit of religion administers what could be described as an
intravenous injection of fear. Old-wineskin leaders fear losing their positions of power. They fear being pulled out of
their comfort zones. Their typical question is, "What am I going to lose by moving into God's new times and seasons?"
They rarely ask, instead, "What is the kingdom of God going to gain?" They are hesitant to risk the possibility of either
losing control or losing money. So they capitulate to the religious spirit and do what ever it takes to preserve the status
quo, while honestly thinking that they are doing God's will.
THE LINK WITH THE SPIRIT OF POLITICS
It is worthy of mention that the ultimate tactic of the corporate spirit of religion is to form an alliance with the spirit of
politics. This is how the Pharisees ended up killing Jesus.
The Pharisees were out to do away with Jesus. He was the most serious threat to their religious status quo that they
had encountered. "[Jesus] entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And [the
Pharisees] watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him" (Mark 3:1-
However, the Pharisees knew that, under Roman law, they would have no power to eliminate Jesus. So they sought out
political means. "The Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against [Jesus], how they might
destroy Him" (Mark 3:6). The Herodians were a Jewish group that had the favor of the dynasty of Herod. They were
not traditional allies of the Pharisees, but when the Pharisees allied with them, linking the spirit of religion with the spirit
of politics, it was only a matter of time until Jesus would be crucified.
I mention this because this alliance is common in the world today. For example, the spirit of religion in the Roman
Catholic Church for centuries linked with the political spirit in Latin America and effectively prevented the spread of the
gospel. Once this was broken, evangelical churches began to mushroom. Currently, some Eastern European countries
that have come out of Communist atheism are in danger of curtailing their new religious freedom by making an alliance
with Orthodox churches, which are seeking to prevent the spread of non-Orthodox churches in their midst. The
Orthodox Church wants governments to recognize it as the only official Christian Church and to enact anti-missionary
laws. Likewise, anti-conversion laws in Hindu lands represent this deadly linking of the religious spirit with the political
THREE PRINCIPLES FOR DEALING WITH THE SPIRIT OF RELIGION
How do those of us who feel that God has assigned us to move into new wineskins deal with the opposition of the spirit
of religion? I clearly recall the battle I had when, with John Wimber, I tried to introduce signs and wonders into the
curriculum of Fuller Seminary back in the 1980's. The power brokers of the seminary did not want this new wineskin in
their midst. The spirit of religion was strong enough to convince them that they were actually serving God by not
allowing healing or deliverance in their seminary classrooms.
Looking back to those years, which, by the way, constituted the most painful period of my entire ministry, I can draw
some principles for dealing with the spirit of religion. The upshot of my implementing these principles was that healing
and deliverance ultimately became part of the school's curriculum, so these principles may have some validity.
energy. It frequently uses enticements such as "Let's dialogue" or "We need more prayer" or "Do further study"
or "Give the old wineskin another chance." All of this is designed to wear out your mind, the literal meaning of
"belah." In the signs and wonders controversy at Fuller Seminary, I was forced into a good bit of this against my
will, and I was weakened by it.
trying to disrupt God's plans. The Bible says, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God" for
doing several things, including "bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:
4-5, emphasis added). We use our spiritual authority through the blood of Christ to loose the corporate spirit of
religion, which is trying to make leaders think wrong thoughts.
intercession of my prayer partners. If space permitted, I could give specific instances of how their warfare prayer
actually changed the minds of some of those who had been determined to bring me down. However, because it
was real warfare, I am sorry to report that others saw their careers at the seminary come to a premature end.
enemies. Your real enemy, the corporate spirit of religion, is simply using certain individuals to accomplish its
ungodly desires to maintain the status quo. This is the time to clothe ourselves with humility, as I Peter 5:5 tells
us to do, because "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
At Fuller Seminary there was a coalition of five faculty members who decided to take me on. I was able to avoid one-on-
one polemics with all five. I don't recall ever tearing them down behind their backs. Why? They were good people. I
had no question that each one of them deeply desired to serve God. They were upset with me only because they,
unknowingly, had come under the influence of a religious spirit.
The spirit of religion is defeated when its victims become transformed by the renewing of their minds, according to
Romans 12:2. This will happen to those who, like John the Baptist, become anointed leaders of the old wineskin; and
together we will be ready to move triumphantly into our new times, our new seasons and our new destinies.
FREEDOM FROM THE RELIGIOUS SPIRIT, by C. Peter Wagner, Copyright 2005, Regal Books.
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