Mack Wolford died after being bitten by a rattlesnake

The Modern practice of modern snake handling goes back to around 1910.  However the history of snake handling goes back even further as present day Indian snake charmers would testify.   It is reckoned that by the 1020 all Holiness and Pentecostal churches had rejected the practice.  However the practice has continued.  Official figures on how many churches are involved vary from anything from 40 to 100.  So the basic truth of the matter is that no one really knows for sure.  Different states have different legislation to ban the practice.   

The law on this matter in the USA varies from state to state.  This web site gives an interesting look into the legal side of this matter.

When people use the term Christian in the same sentence as the Appalachian region they most always think of snake handlers.  The verse they always point to is from Mark Gospel.

Mark 16: 17-18 And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. 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.

Whilst American does not openly condemn the practise per say and thus avoid being accused of stopping religious freedom, they will prosecute the ownership selling and possessing of illegal reptiles.  In the hope that if can curtail the flow they can curtail the practice.

 This was done with a Pastor Coots from the Full Gospel Tabernacle in the name of Jesus in Middlesboro, after a Tennessee woman died after being bitten by a rattlesnake during one of his services.

The report reads:

“The pastor of a Kentucky church that handles snakes in religious rites was among 10 people arrested by wildlife officers in a crackdown on the venomous snake trade.

More than 100 snakes, many of them deadly, were confiscated in the undercover sting after Thursday’s arrests, said Col. Bob Milligan, director of law enforcement for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.

Most were taken from the Middlesboro home of Gregory James Coots, including 42 copperheads, 11 timber rattlesnakes, three cottonmouth water moccasins, a western diamondback rattlesnake, two cobras and a puff adder. “

Whilst snake handling is bad enough but to have them in under the same roof as your wife and kids is reckless indeed.

Another  reports states:

Some believers also drink poisons during as strychnine or gasoline in accordance with the five signs. Serpent-handling began in the Church of God around 1910 and is practiced by about 2,000 people throughout parts of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. It is illegal in all states except West Virginia. But experts say the practice is declining.

“When you see it done, you cannot believe your eyes,” said the Rev. Bill Leonard, a professor of church history and religion at Wake Forest University and a scholar of snake-handling congregations.

“They know what the dangers are and they play gospel roulette by doing this, “Leonard told Discovery News. “They pick up the serpents in all kinds of ways, often more than one in their hands.”Leonard estimates between 75 and 100 people have died over the past century of snake handling. He says families who belong to these congregations believe their faith will keep them alive, that’s why they don’t have snake venom anti-toxins available should something go wrong.

In a more recent report of a Pentecostal Pastor

 “A Pentecostal pastor famed for handling snakes during church sermons has died after being bitten by a rattlesnake.

Mark “Mack” Wolford, 44, was well-known across the US state of Virginia for his lively church services, which included handling dangerous snakes in a ‘test of faith’. But the pastor died after being bitten by a rattlesnake he had owned for years, mirroring the death of his own father in 1983. Holding an outdoor service in which serpents where passed around among church members, Wolford was bitten in the thigh by a yellow rattlesnake as he sat on the floor next to it. The service was quickly disbanded as the pastor was taken to family member’s house to recover, but he later died in hospital from poisoning. Wolford had been bitten on three previous occasions, but did not seek medical attention as he regarded the injury as a test of faith. “He helped me to understand the faith instead of just documenting it,” photographer and eyewitness Lauren Pond told the Washington Post. “He was one of the most open pastors I’ve ever met. He was a friend and a teacher.” “I didn’t see the bite, I saw the aftermath” she added. Source

However at what point does faith become presumption?

The last hundred years has seen a recorded history in deaths which were directly associated with “faith” teachings.  A faith that was not based upon Biblical faith but an ideology that tempts God.  Presumption would be a better term to use.  No where are we encourage  to prove our faith by taking up snakes, or drinking deadly poison.  The practicality is that if you happen to be bitten, or drink poison then and only then we can have faith to believe God for intervention.  The fact that this ideology went so far as to see ill patients refusing basic medications or rejecting any hospital care, because that would be seen as a lack of faith.  As if God was at odds with medicine, many would lay in their beds dying when a simple prescription from a doctor would have cured them.  The accusation is that if you died then you simply did not have enough faith is an excuse that just does not cut it.  True faith trusts God in the situation, it does not demand that we put ourselves in the situation.  Nor does it demand that God gets us out of the situation .  Whilst I have no doubt that Gods grace does indeed intervene, it does not mean that we continue down a road with the full knowledge that one bite or the rejection of basic medical help is somehow a sign that we don’t trust God.  Sometimes Medicine is Gods way of intervention.

On one snake Handlers web site the whole premise of handling snakes becomes the basis as to who is saved and who is not.  Otherwise if you don’t handle snakes or are afraid to do so, then your not a true believer.  Here is what he had to say.

“To me, you are not a true Pentecostal or Holiness believer if you reject the handling of serpents. Don’t waste the Lord’s time professing to be a believer in GOD if you can’t follow his commandments”

So faith alone is no longer good enough we must now add works by handling snakes and drinking poison.  I am sure the people who died in Jones town might have thought the same.  They all died when they drank poison.  Where in scripture are we told to prove our faith by handling snakes and drinking poison?

“ Acts 28: 5 is a loop hole for all Christians, who are too scared to handle serpents and drink poison as instructed in Mark 16: 17,18. They use “reasoning” that implies that they will handle a serpent accidentally, but not deliberately. GOD doesn’t REASON. Satan does REASONING – not GOD”

Now reasoning is unbiblical according to this proponent of the teaching?  Don’t think about the consequences just do it.  Reasoning that the whole idea is dumb is really satanic.  Is reasoning at odds with scripture or is blind faith the new revelation?

 Is 1: 18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool

NO God gave us the ability to reason and work through an issue.  The very fact that so many of these snake handlers have died following such practices , only shows that there has to be more too it.

Mark 16: 18 has become the in Manuel to prove ones faith in the same way as tongue did in Pentecostalism.  Yet Tongues has become one of the most counterfeited gifts in the 20 century. In fact in some Pentecostal circles the ability to speak in tongues became the proof that you were saved.  The many who found themselves unable to do so were seen as second class Christians. 

The fact of the matter scripture makes it clear that not everyone has the gift of tongues.  Not everyone has the gift of healing and I suspect even fewer have the gift to handle snakes either.  The Bible remains strangely silent on this matter. Acts 28 where Paul is bitten by a snake is the only example in scripture, and no where  are we told that this was some special snake handling service.    No where else do we even see any of the apostles having snake handling services, or scouring the landscape for venomous snakes to prove that they were saved.    The same proponent pointed to Moses as being the first to handle snakes, but it must also be noticed that he was also the last.  There was no scriptural evidence or mandate for any priest or prophet to prove or validate his claims by having a snake handling service.  It must also be noticed that it was not Moses ability to handle the snake, but the miracle that his rod changed into a snake and ate the rest. 

  1. Roy Christians begins to handle a 4 feet rattlesnake, like the one that killed Mack Wolford, whose cofin restes. beside him. Macks Wife Vickie is on record as saying ” Its still the word and I want to go on doing what the word says”. She has now lost both her husband and her son to snakehandling. Source Daily express.

    However you put it people are dying. For some this might be a gift and a calling , but I suspect for the many its not.. Its just sad that the message is not getting home.

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