There are some faithful churches in the backwoods of Appalachia (almost predominantly white people) that still do snake-handling. Some estimate that up to 125 churches in America practice this important Christian tradition. But with 45,000 churches in America, it’s time to write a letter or send a telegraph to your Pastor to go down to his local PetSmart or Petco and pick-up whatever venomous snake they have available. (And be sure you say “venomous” and not “poisonous.” Dart frogs are poisonous, snakes use venom; you don’t want to sound ignorant when picking up your church viper.) Some of you grew up in crazy Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, or Non-denominational churches that never did the 4th ordinance of snake-handling. (1st being Baptism, 2nd being Communion, and 3rd being foot washing [especially important that you wash your feet because snakes have been known to strike at particular pungent feet caused by wearing penny loafers without socks.) Well, just because you missed out as an impressionable child doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this decades old practice as a discerning and sane adult. But if you still need some convincing, let me give you the Top 10 Reasons your church should start snake-handling immediately.
1) Mark 16:17-18 says, “These signs will accompany those who have believed… they will pick up serpents and… it will not hurt them.” This is clearly not a promise to the disciples (despite saying that a few verses earlier) but rather it is a command for all believers to go out of their way to pick up poisonous snakes in order to prove they really believe.
2) Most scholars agree that the latter verses in Mark 16 are some of the most important verses of the Bible and were most certainly read hourly by the early church. In fact, most pastors who do snake-handling believe these verses are actually the key text to interpreting the rest of Scripture.
3) The Apostle Paul was bit by a snake while on the island of Malta. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells us to follow his example as he is following Christ’s example. Even though he wrote that before he was bit by that snake, God probably revealed to him that he would get bit by the snake, and then wrote One Corinthians to tell us to follow his example.
4) How else can you really know if you are a Christian? Sure, you can sincerely believe in your heart and even confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, but if you aren’t unharmed by a snake bite, how could you really know for sure? Unfortunately, exhibiting the Fruits of the Spirit, loving your brothers and sisters in Christ, and turning from the sins of your old life and now following Christ; just is not as definitive as taking a rattlesnake fang to the neck and being totally fine.
5) Christians who are afraid of snakes, are clearly still in their original sin. God made us afraid of snakes after we ate the red delicious apple in the Garden of Eden, but now that Christ has given us a new nature, we no longer need to be afraid of deadly things in this world. So, if you are afraid of snakes, you need to remember that God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7) and thus must assume that the irrational fear you have of the hypodermic needles protruding from the unhinged jaws of these reptile death-dealers is clearly from the devil.
7) Another reason you might be afraid of snakes is you have been watching too much of the mainstream media. If you google “snake-handling churches,” you’ll find tons of news articles on all the people who have been bit by snakes in church and died. What they don’t tell you about is all the times people didn’t get bit. Also, it’s a well-known fact that lizards don’t like snakes and a majority of news personalities are lizard-people.
8) Women shouldn’t handle snakes though. There’s the spiritual reason, i.e. God is punishing women extra for Eve and Jezebel and the like. And the scientific reason, i.e. snakes can smell blood and you just never know what time of the month it is. This is why women should sit in the back of the church because the snakes might catch a scent and bite the closest man in the confusion. But that shouldn’t be viewed negatively of the man the snake bit, but rather we should blame the closest woman near him.
9) When your Pastor has gotten a Word from the Lord that differs from Scripture, it’s really comforting when he’s standing in a baby pool filled with pit vipers. You know if he’s lying than he’s going to die. God hates liars. (Little known fact, 100% of snake bite deaths in the US and Canada occur to people who have lied in their lifetime.) But if your Pastor tells you that God spoke to him in a dream or in some other non-specific way, you can know he’s telling the truth if the rattle snake he’s been raising since it emerged from the egg just slithers calmly around the washed feet of your pastor.
10) Snake-handling is a real attention getter. When you are holding a King Cobra or Black Mamba near your face, all eyes are on you. The most important thing a pastor can do is get all the attention on him. There are so many competing voices out there. People in your very own congregation might have those wireless earbuds straight from the Devil in their ears listening to non-snake-handlers like Matt Chandler,Voddie Baucham, or John Piper. But when it’s the 4th Sunday of the month, and the snakes get pulled out of their pillow cases; then you better believe you will be THE talk at the after-church potluck. In fact, God wants nothing more than his pastors and other church leaders to receive all the honor and glory they can get during the 40 or 50 years they have on this earth before the Lord takes them home from a massive coronary because of all the delicious food God put here on this earth.
Now remember, if you or your pastor dies when you are bit by the necrotic venom housed in the glands of most North American snakes; you can be sure it was the Lord’s perfect timing. Your life is but a vapor (James 4:14). I hope this short post, inspires you and taught you a little something about snake-handling and other aspects of Scripture and church life. And I really, really, really hope you caught the obvious tone of this article. Oh Lord, please protect people that read the internet too literally, and forgive me for not laying it on thicker.
On second thought. Scroll down if you need the more straightforward communication. Remember those magazines where the answer key on the next page showed you all the things wrong with the picture. Yeah, let’s do that.
Snake-handling is a relatively new phenomenon. It absolutely should not be practiced in Christianity, and you should praise the Lord that your parents didn’t raise you in such a church growing up. But beyond talking about snake-handling, I wanted to point out other issues the church has. I hope you noticed most of these.
1) The latter verses in Mark 16 actually don’t appear in the earliest manuscripts. This is a part of a much longer conversation but fortunately there really isn’t anything too out of the ordinary in the passage. Jesus has brought up other similar miraculous signs to the disciples as proof of who He was and the veracity of His message. Now, certainly God could have us survive a snake bite for His honor and glory, but we aren’t to seek such things.
2) We should never use one passage as the key to unlock another, or prioritize the importance of one passage over another. All Scripture is inspired by God. We only “prioritize” in the area of more clear versus less clear. If one passage is clearer than another, use it to help interpret the less clear one.
3) Sure, the Apostle Paul was bitten by a snake, but that doesn’t in any way mean we should try to have the same thing happen. That could not be a stranger interpretation. The book of Acts is descriptive not prescriptive. It tells us what did happen not what should happen. We also aren’t all called to Macedonia, nor do we have to become tent-makers. We are called to live with the same calling of the Gospel that Paul had, not experience all the exact things he did.
4) The Scripture gives us lots of tests to see if we are truly in the faith. I mentioned them already. Playing with snakes just isn’t one of them.
5) It’s totally fine if you are afraid of snakes, or spiders, or deep parts of the ocean. That’s all normal. There’s nothing sinful about it. It’s true we don’t need to fear losing our salvation to any of those things, because whatever evil might come our way, our place in heaven is secured.
6) Did you notice I skipped number 6? Just so you know, you don’t have to be skeptical of 6 or 666 or 13 or any other number. Numbers aren’t bad or bad luck or anything like that.
7) Sure, the media is going to point out the stupidity of snake-handling. Do be careful in not being too trusting of the news or too sure it’s all a bunch of lies. We are all susceptible to confirmation bias. We agree with the people who share our opinion and disagree with those who don’t. Be actually discerning. Maybe your favorite politician did do something wrong. It’s easy to vilify the messenger. Oh, and there are actually very few lizard-people in the media. (Ok, I promised to be straight-forward. There are no lizard people!)
8) The Bible doesn’t speak of woman as being lesser at all. There are passages about women being physically weaker and thus men should be protective of them. There are passages that tell wives to be submissive to their husbands. But that’s in no way calling women inferior. (In fact, you could argue that it takes the stronger person to be in that position.) It’s just a matter of orderliness. Men were created first, realized they didn’t want to be alone, and God created women second. There are no additional curses. Sin cursed both men and women differently but equally. We are all equal before Christ.
9) We already have a word from the Lord. It’s called the Scriptures. Scripture is what has been verified. There is no more need for God to use prophecy to teach His church. We got all we need in the Bible and need to just start obeying it. Be skeptical of anyone claiming to have a message from the Lord. In fact, unless they are just being cute and quote directly from a passage of Scripture, you probably should just calmly but quickly get out of there.
10) All Christian have one purpose – to glorify God. When we glorify a person, we are wrong. When we seek glory for ourselves, we are wrong. I’ll quote John Piper for this one: the preacher’s job is to do “Expository Exaltation.” We take a Scripture passage and explain what it originally meant to the original hearers. Once we do that, we can bring personal application, but it will be somewhere in the vein of praising and thanking God for who He is and what He has done. i.e. we “exalt” Him.
Hope that helped.