Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why are there still "snake handling" churches?

On Sunday we learned of the death of a snake-handling church pastor, Jamie Coots, in Kentucky, after being bitten by a rattler and refusing medical attention.  The story is here.

Pastor Coots gained notoriety as the star of a National Geographic Channel reality show about such churches, and now he has made them "famous" once again.

Where does this strange idea come from?  It is a phenomenon that is part of the Pentecostal revival that began at the beginning of the 20th century.  As mainline Pentecostalism encouraged the practice of what it identified as spiritual gifts, snake handling Pentecostals saw the need to claim the statement of Mark 16:18--"they will pick up serpents with their hands..."--as a directive with the promise of protection.  Interestingly I am unaware of any church that takes up the rest of that same verse--the drinking of deadly poison.  The practice was different than speaking in tongues, but the motive was the same--to demonstrate God's power in the lives of his people.  While snake-handling is a small part most of their services, it is a defining characteristic of these churches.

Why does it continue?  Ultimately, because its practitioners believe they are called to do this in obedience to Scripture.  But are they?

Absolutely not.  The passage says that these things may happen, but they are not commanded.  The passage describes God's actions on behalf of his people in certain situations, but Jesus is not commanding his people to put themselves in these situations.

Pastor Coots knows that now.  I hope he knows so from the vantage point of a corrected child of God, not a deceived soul.