Rattlesnake Religion

Jamie Coots was the pastor of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Kentucky, and one of the practitioners of an old Appalachian belief in handling serpents showcased on National Geographic’s reality show Snake Salvation.  He died February 15 from a snakebite during a church service.  He was forty-two.

     Pastor Jamie and his fellow followers take the words of Christ in Mark 16:18 as a command, “they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them.”  They believe they are obeying the words of Christ and putting their faith to the test by handling poisonous snakes.  They believe they will not be bitten, or if bitten, they will suffer no harm.  When Jamie was bitten he went home and refused medical attention, and died.

     What Jamie and those like him believe is an imperative, others view as prophetic.  Paul is shipwrecked on the island of Malta and while gathering wood for a fire is bitten by a viper.  He shakes the serpent off into the fire and is not harmed (Acts 28:1-6).  The words of Christ become clear in this account.  If a messenger of the Gospel is bitten while in the service of God there will be times when God will extend His supernatural protection.  Christ was sharing His prophetic insight, not commanding us to deliberately subject ourselves to harm.

     When Jesus was tempted by the devil to throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple He responded, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” Matthew 4:7.  Jesus as He frequently did throughout His earthly ministry appealed to the authority of Scripture, in this case Deuteronomy 6:16.  We are not to force God’s hand.  The Creator is not to be manipulated by His creatures.  That was Jesus’ point.

     Simple obedience to Christ will bring its fair share of temptations and trials.  We do not need to generate more to prove our faith; we merely need to remain faithful in what He has called each of us to do.  He wants obedience not ostentation.  We are not called to draw attention to our faith; we are called to point others to faith in Him.

     Our first parents did not prove to be good serpent handlers either.  Failing to trust the command of God, Adam and Eve disobeyed.  They mishandled the serpent’s sale pitch and that proved damnable.

     When Jamie misunderstood the Scriptures it proved deadly; when Adam and Eve disobeyed it proved damnable.  No matter how you look at it, when man ignores the Word of God he does not have good outcomes when he tries to handle serpents.

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