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Sight Unseen, Issue #017 -- Snake Handling 101
April 22, 2004
|Welcome to Issue #17
------------Snake Handling 101---------
I was surprised to learn that I live right in the heart of snake handling country. Yep, the first snake handling preacher originated in the town that has been my home for the last 27 years. George Hensley, a good 'ol boy from the south, is believed to be the originator of the snake handling preaching.
According to Gordon Melton (author), George was preaching in a Church of God early in the 1900's on the book of Mark Chapter 16 which states 15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. 17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. . The congregation then dumped a box of live rattlesnakes onto the church floor. The preacher, nonplussed, picked up the snakes and kept right on preaching. I bet nobody fell asleep during that sermon.
George Hensley died from snakebite in 1955 and this practice is now illegal in most states. However, I know this still occurs because I met a man during a homecoming church dinner who told me that you really haven't been to church until you have been in a snake handling service.
Quite frankly, I have no desire to be in a room where there are live, deadly snakes slithering around. Which brings us to the question: what did Jesus mean when he said "They shall take up serpents and drink poison and it will not hurt them"?
First of all, he was talking about the beginning years of the church when the Holy Spirit empowered people to do miraculous things so people would believe the gospel and the greatest miracle of all: that Jesus paid the price for their sins and because Jesus lives they also will inherit eternal life if they put their trust in Jesus.
Thousands of Christians in the early church were persecuted heavily for their belief in Christ. Many were imprisoned and many were put to death. I'm sure that many were given poison to drink, but the poison did not harm them because God wouldn't let it.
Paul himself was bitten by a poisonous snake but suffered no ill effects from it. In Acts 28:3-5 we read But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, "No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live." But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.
How is this different from the snake handling of today? God's divine protection was over Paul and the new converts. Paul did not intentionally grab a poisonous snake. One bit him when he was gathering firewood. The snake's poison had no effect and this actually fulfilled the prophecy of Jesus when He said "They shall take up serpents and no harm will befall them".
So what's wrong with drinking a little poison during church and letting rattlesnakes slither all over you? When Jesus was being tempted by Satan in the wilderness and Satan asked Jesus to jump off a pinnacle because angels would protect him, Jesus replied, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God". He was quoting Deut. 6:16. That is exactly what snake handlers do: They put the Lord, their God, to the test. I imagine God runs out of patience sometimes.
Snake handling, speaking in tongues, casting out demons, drinking poison, and healing the sick are featured heavily in many churches of today and I believe it is one reason we have a very large apostate church. Why? Because the pursuit of miracles produces only unbelief. Those Christians who pursue these things are not looking for Christ's return or a relationship with Christ: they are looking for the next miracle. Their faith is very weak.
The best way to grow in faith and in a relationship with Christ is to read and study the bible...not pursue signs. Romans 10:17 states So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
What is the greatest gift a Christian can give to a non-believer? He or she can tell them about how Christ died so that they may receive eternal life and that is the greatest miracle of all.
Copyright 2005 by Gary Goodworth