Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Snake Handling, Faith or Folly?

It seems that our society has come upon a new phenomenon. Over and over again we read stories of churches and preachers that get caught or hurt handling snakes. The other day a minister was found dead in his home after being bitten by a poisonous snake while at his church. There are even entire television programs such as “Snake Salvation” dedicated to these snake handling churches.

(I will give a disclaimer before I go on. I have never watched a single episode “Snake Salvation” or any other program similar to it.)
When we read stories like the one about the Kentucky pastor who recently died our first thought normally is, “What is wrong with these people?” “These people are crazy!” “There is no way I would handle a snake!” These are all pretty normal thoughts I guess. I just can’t help but wonder how crazy these people would be to us if we would have grown up around this type of culture. These rituals seem very strange, and even “crazy” when we see others doing them. To those people who grew up in snake handling churches it’s not that “crazy” at all.

Imagine if your parents had taken you to a snake handling church when you were a small child. What if you were taught all your life that the only way to prove your faith was to take up a serpent? You see the things that seem odd to you may be natural to someone else. It doesn’t just end with snake handling. What if you grew up being taught that polygamy was God’s plan for your life? Would it really be odd to pray to the Virgin Mary if you were taught all your life that was the best way to get in touch with God?

Many of my readers attend churches where worship is participated in and encouraged. Do you realize that some of the things you do in church such as shouting or clapping your hands other churches find very disturbing? I personally believe that the Bible teaches this type of worship, but there are many that would disagree with me.

The purpose of this blog is not to justify those that handle snakes nor is it to condemn them. I personally believe that snake handling is a false doctrine, but it is one that I can understand. The reason that I can understand it is because I see people all the time who believe they have to do things in order to impress God. This is not new at all. In Paul’s day he constantly had to battle with false teachers that would come into churches and teach that you had to do certain things in order to impress or be accepted of God. For example notice what Paul says to the Galatian church.

10Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. 11I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain. Galatians 4:10-11

This church was founded in the truth of the gospel presented to them by Paul. Soon after Paul’s departing however there came a group of Jews teaching that in order to please God you had to do certain things. Rituals and good works soon took the place of the gospel message. These people became so wrapped up in these rituals that Paul worried that he had wasted his time ministering to them.

The scriptures are clear that the moment a person places their faith in Christ their sins are forgiven, and the righteousness of Christ is placed upon their life. When God sees me He sees me as righteous, as if I had never sinned. The scriptures are also very clear that the transformation that takes place in our life at the moment of salvation should motivate us to live in such a manner that would be pleasing in God’s eyes. We don’t work to earn or maintain salvation, but we do work because we have been freely given salvation.

When I look at churches all around me I have two fears. My first fear is that many Christians place so much emphasis on their works. They place so much emphasis on works and rituals that they eventually take the place of God in their life. They begin to worship their standards and their rituals more than they worship the God of heaven.

I believe in having standards. I certainly believe that we should be busy working for God. Just don’t ever get so caught up in your work that you forget who it is that you are working for. Don’t forget why it is that you are performing those works. We work, not to obtain, but because we have obtained the goodness of God.

My second fear is that the average Christian just kind of assumes that everything they are taught is right without examining the scriptures for themselves. I can promise you that there are people sitting in good, sound, fundamental churches who are just as ignorant about what they believe as the man dancing with a snake in his hands. In both cases the people just believe what the preacher tells them from the pulpit is true.

This has always been an issue in the church. Just scan through the New Testament writings of Paul and notice how many times he writes “I would not have you ignorant.” Paul realized that many Christians did not understand the scriptures for themselves. Ignorance of the scriptures is one of the most powerful weapons the devil has to fight the child of God with. If the devil approached you like he did Eve in the Garden of Eden with the question “Yeah hath God said…” would you be able to tell the difference between truth and a lie? In the time commonly referred to as the “Dark Ages” false teachers would intentionally keep the scriptures out of the hands of the common man. Satan has always known that if a man studied the Bible for himself he was far less likely to fall for false teachings.

I don’t look down on those that are caught up in false teaching, I pity them. I pray that they read the scriptures, see the truth clearly presented therein, and that they have the courage to stand on what they learn to be truth. My prayer for you is the same. We all need to surround ourselves with people and ministers that we can trust, but let us never be solely dependant on them for scriptural truth. Read your Bible. Pray that God gives you wisdom to know truth from error. Soon you will discover that with that your new knowledge also comes a world of blessings.

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