The Wiles of the Spirit of Religion
by C. Peter Wagner, Global Harvest Ministries


You could be afflicted by an evil spirit and not even suspect that you are! I am referring to the spirit of religion, possibly the most subtle spirit in Satan's army of darkness.

You usually know it if you are oppressed by a spirit of, say, lust or rejection or gluttony or fear or addiction or anger or greed, just to name a few. Most of the time, you don't want to keep living under the influence of that spirit and you seek deliverance.

But that is not the case with the spirit of religion. Why? It is because this religious spirit has the power to make you believe that the religious things you are doing are the will of God.

One of the assignments that God has given me in this season is to expose the spirit of religion to the body of Christ so that it can be recognized, dealt with, and ultimately bound. We as individual believers, our churches, our ministries, and our Christian leaders in general need complete freedom from the religious spirit if we are going to be everything that God wants us to be.

When Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, he says, "Lest Satan should take advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices" (II Corinthians 2:11). Let's turn that verse around and ask this question: What will happen to us if we are ignorant of Satan's devices? The answer, of course, is that he will take advantage of us. My take on that is that the more we know about the devices of the religious spirit, the less it will be able to take advantage of us.

What The Spirit is Saying to the Churches in These Days

Soon after I received God's assignment to expose the spirit of religion, He began bringing me into contact with others of like mind. I cannot remember hearing a whole message on the religious spirit before this process started, although I did hear the religious spirit mentioned numerous times in sermons and other messages. I believe that the first full teaching I heard was from Tommi Femrite in one of our GHM conferences; and the second was from Leo Lawson of EveryNation. Then Robert Heidler preached a sermon on it at Glory of Zion in Denton , Texas . Following that, I discovered that Chris Hayward of Cleansing Stream Ministries had introduced a whole segment on the religious spirit in his deliverance retreats. Next I found a booklet that Rick Joyner had written on the subject.

By then I was believing that this is something that the Spirit is saying to the churches in these days. So I approached Regal Books to see if they would be willing to be whistle-blowers and publish a whole book exposing this demonic principality. Characteristically, Regal was more than willing to step up to the plate. So I recruited those whom I have mentioned as well as Chuck Pierce and Kimberly Daniels and Jim Anderson and Hank and Myrene Morris to join me in producing a power-packed book, Freedom from the Religious Spirit, which Regal will be releasing later in May. I'm excited about the impact that this book will have throughout our nation.

What Do I Mean by a "Spirit of Religion"? A Definition:

What does the spirit of religion do? Here is my definition, which I think is quite accurate: The spirit of religion is an agent of Satan assigned to prevent change and to maintain the status quo by using religious devices.

The "change" that I am referring to embraces the new directions that God continually has for His people. God is not static. He unfolds new times and seasons for us as individuals and for the corporate church. He pours His new wine into new wineskins. The Bible says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7). The word "says" is in the present tense, not the past tense. The religious spirit tries to keep us from hearing the present tense by having us focus on the past tense.

What God said in the past was truly the word of God. Today's old wineskin was yesterday's new wineskin, receiving God's new wine. That is why the spirit of religion has a relatively easy task. It wants us to stay where we were and not move into God's new season . . . here we were good. It was once God's place for us. Now the religious spirit wants to convince us that God has nothing better for us in the future.

Don't give in. Rebuke that spirit. Jump into the river of God and move along with the power of the Holy Spirit to your next season. The past might have been good, but your destiny is the future, not the past.

Think of the Pharisees. They became Jesus' worst enemies. They were not bad people. They strictly followed the laws of God. They were respected leaders of the Jews. Why, then, did they hate Jesus so much? It is because the religious spirit had such a tight grip on them. Jesus came bringing a new season -- the kingdom of God . Even though He was the Messiah they had been waiting for over the centuries, they could not see it because the religious spirit had blinded their eyes.

A Telling Confrontation

One of the telling confrontations came when the Pharisees asked Jesus, "Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread" (Matthew 15:2).

This was not an issue of violating the Ten commandments. This was the "tradition of the elders," which means that, over time, the religious leaders of Israel had added layer after layer of religious tradition to the law, introducing a legalism which ended up keeping people away from God rather than drawing them close to God. The Pharisees were so committed to their religion that they felt that anyone who did not do as they did was offending God. They sincerely thought that they were doing the will of God. In reality, they were being victimized by the spirit of religion.

Jesus, of course, saw through this. His response to the Pharisees was, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?" (Matthew 15:3). The spirit of religion can become so powerful that those under its influence are not just benignly neutral, but they have allowed themselves to get into a position where they are actually working against God. Ordinarily, if you try to tell them that, they won't hear you because their minds have been so twisted by that demon that they think they are doing God's will.

Jesus then showed the Pharisees how they had twisted a specific commandment of God, and called them "hypocrites." Then He said, "In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).

Two thousand years later, religious leaders are still teaching the religious rules and regulations produced by human beings as if they were absolute doctrines. The spirit of religion that affected the Pharisees affects pastors, ministry leaders, teachers, denominational executives, and many others today. The Holy Spirit is speaking to the church, but they don't want to follow the new directions. They prefer what the Spirit said to the churches back when they were a new wineskin.

I know that you don't want to be marooned on the desert island of human tradition. This brief article is just an appetizer for the new book which I hope you will read. As the book title suggests, you can experience freedom from the religious spirit!

by C. Peter Wagner
Global Harvest Ministries