The goal is to be spiritual but not religious. Religious spirits are the strongest opposing forces against the Church. They are hypocrites, legalistic, self-righteous, and oppose threats out of a sense of importance. The Holy Spirit uses religious persecution to launch the greatest spiritual revolution of all time.
One of your greatest opponents in your transition into ministry will be the religious spirit. Religious spirits fear loss of position, new things, and being wrong. They will oppose anyone they feel threatens their sense of importance. We discover the beginning of apostolic ministry and the apostolic Church in Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus. Shortly after His resurrection, the Church was persecuted by the religious spirit and scattered throughout the entire region. Scripture says, "Now they that were scattered abroad because of the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but to the Jews only" (Acts 11:19).
Stephen was a disciple of Christ. He was a man full of faith and power who did great signs, wonders, and miracles among the people. Sometime during the course of his ministry, he found himself being challenged by the leaders of a religious stronghold. The spirit of religion is always frightened by those who are anointed by the Holy Spirit because religious spirits sit in seats of governing authority that do not belong to them. To hold on to their usurped positions of authority, they mounted an offensive attack on a man who carried God’s true governing anointing.
As the testimony continues, "And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. Then there arose certain of the synagogues, which are called the synagogues of the Libertines, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those of Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke" (Acts 6:8–10).
Notice that these men formed a confederacy of religious leaders from at least three different synagogues that were unable to resist the wisdom and the spirit with which Stephen spoke. So they stirred up the people, elders, and scribes to join their opposition against Stephen. Religious spirits have a dark ability to inflict fear and strife as they motivate others against the things of God. Religious opposition and persecution are often evidence of entering into an apostolic dimension of ministry. The old always seem to resist the new, and the dead always fear the living.
APOSTOLIC AND RELIGIOUS OPPOSITION
Religious spirits are murdering spirits. As these men conspired together against Stephen, "they furnished men, which said, we have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God. And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, caught him, and brought him to the council" (Acts 6:11–12).
Councils are religious courts that religious leaders use to defend their positions of power and control the people in a certain area.Historically, disciples of Christ regularly met religious persecution or occult opposition as soon as they began to obey the Holy Spirit. That’s because the anointing activates spiritual authority that confronts anything that hinders the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Here, in typical slanderous fashion, the religious spirits set up false witnesses to build their case against Stephen, a man who was moving in the apostolic and doing a lot of good works among the people.
A key thing to remember is that Stephen stirred up trouble while ministering on the streets, not in any local church. Ministering outside the four walls of the local church and in the marketplace where the people are is one of the earmarks of apostolic ministry. Religious opposition and persecution are evidence of entering into an apostolic dimension of ministry. One time I took a team of believers with me to minister on the streets in a small town in Belgium. I will never forget the call one of our team members received from the town’s religious council asking by what authority we were preaching the gospel in their village. I sent a message back to the caller, "We got permission from headquarters." We never heard from them again.
The apostolic mantel of authority will expose a religious spirit every time. At Stephen's meeting with these religious folk, they "set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law: For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place and shall change the customs which Moses delivered to us. And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as if it had been the face of an angel" (Acts 6:13–15).
THE DAY A GOOD MAN DIED
The anointing on Stephen's life was visible to those in this meeting, but it didn’t matter. They wanted to stop him at any cost. But Stephen was bold and didn’t back down. He preached a powerful anointed message in his defense, proving from scripture that God does not dwell in houses made with human hands and concluding that these leaders were resisting the Holy Ghost and acting like religious leaders before them who persecuted and killed the prophets of old. They were cut to the heart, so much so, that they gnashed their teeth in furious anger. Imagine that, grown men and religious elders of the city unable to control their murderous emotions. Scripture says, "When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth" (Acts 7:54).
While Stephen was being pummeled with stones by these murderous religious leaders, he had an open vision and saw the glory of God with Jesus standing at God’s right hand. "But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And he said, Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55–56). Apostolic ministry has these kinds of prophetic operations. It’s of note that the Holy Spirit never abandons those who stand fast against ungodly religious opposition. Stephen, while drawing his last breath and in a loud voice, asked the Lord not to lay this sin to their charge, then he stepped victoriously from this world into glory.
Again, the religious spirit that Stephen faced was a murdering spirit. Scripture says they stoned Stephen for "calling upon God and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down and cried with a loud voice,Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:59–60). This was the day a good man died.
As it was in the genesis of the apostolic church, so shall it be during its restoration. The religious spirit will be the strongest opposing force against your transition into apostolic ministry. I wrote of this in my book "Spirit of Religion: The Unseen Thief" Jesus spoke of religious spirits,
"Therefore, be witnesses unto yourselves that you are the children of them that killed the prophets. Fill you up, then take the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell? "Therefore, behold, I send unto you prophets and wise men and scribes; and some of them you shall kill and crucify, and some of them you shall scourge in your synagogues and persecute them from city to city" (Matthew 23:31–34).
The religious church is a man-motivated, dead-religious-works-oriented, carnal church that has a form of godliness void of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Little did Stephen know that God was going to use his death to launch a great apostolic revolution. After the vicious murder of Stephen, the believers were "scattered abroad and went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). Religious persecution always results in the advancement of ministry. The gospel of the kingdom cannot be stopped.
(c) Apostle Jonas Clark -STAY INFORMED
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