I recently watched a program on the National Geographic Channel on a Pentecostal group that handles snakes (or serpents). I am curious as to what other groups think about this branch of Christianity, or if it is even considered part of the “Body of Christ”?
Key to understanding this culture are a pair of verses from the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament: “And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Source: CNN
I would read *Salvation on Snake Mountain *by Dennis Covington. It describes his personal journey into this community, both to study the group, and discover his own Appalachian heritage.
From what I remember, most of the characters are hardscrabble types, who suffer from poverty, violence, and other negative aspects of Appalachian life. They find empowerment in their lives by handling deadly animals in God’s name. They also tend to be snake lovers (not surprising) who take great pride in the reptiles they catch, care for, and use in their worship services.
From a doctrinal standpoint, what I remember is that they tend to be a Bible-based Evangelical style church, lots of speaking in tongues, healings, dancing in the aisles, giving into to the euphoria of the service…then the snakes come out at the climax of some services, but not all. It is all depends on how the Spirit moves them on any given night. I also remember specifically that the group Dennis Covington was in contact with baptized only in the name of Jesus, not the Trinity.
We watched a movie on this in high school (In business law of all classes) and I guess the idea is that the bible says true disciples of Christ can handle snakes and not be bit. What I find funny is that the founder was actually killed by one of his snakes during a service. :eek:
Exactly, either he was not a true disciple of Jesus (in which case why follow him) or he was just wrong in the first place. Either way i dont know why people would continue to follow it, i mean honestly that undermines the whole thing. But when religion becomes involved people just seam to do these mental gymnastics to make themselves feel comfortable and protect their egos.
I’m from Texas where we have rattlesnake round-ups. Lots of people can and do handle venomous snakes–as part of their worship service and for a living. In both cases, some people get bit and some luck out and don’t. I have never considered someone’s ability to not be bit while handling a snake as proof of anything–least of all a proof of God’s blessings. Part of it is an awareness of how the snake’s tiny little brain works–just like when you see someone “hypnotize” a cobra. For me, my favorite way of handling a snake is with a hoe!
I’m not sure if it’s really a “test of faith” for them.
I’m not a snake handler (snakes creep me out). But I am Pentecostal (so I have some insight into some of their worship practices), and I did just get through watching this youtube video of a snake handling Pentecostal preacher talking about it: youtube.com/watch?v=y2uGQ6B7HDM
Notice that he says, "This is something you can feel. It’s not something that I wanna take a box of rattlesnakes and start takin’ ‘em out and puttin’ ‘em around my neck and all that unlessen the Spirit begin to move on me. See it gets on you, you don’t know what you doin’. God’s in control. He may tell you to run. If He said run, you gonna be runnin’. . . . "
In other words, this is not something you do to “test your faith.” It’s something you do “in the Spirit” or as the Spirit moves you.
It’s very analogous to the more widely accepted Pentecostal practice of dancing in the Spirit, except that people who dance aren’t putting their lives at risk. In dancing, Pentecostals aren’t trying to “prove their faith” so much as they are being carried along by the Spirit.
IMHO, the same psychology is at work in snake handling, and I’d bet that most snake handling churches teach that you should only handle the serpents if you feel that there is an anointing on you to do it.
Based on Covington’s book, that would be correct. The snakes only come out sometimes, “when the Spirit moves them” as they say. Many services ended with the snakes still in their boxes.
Empowerment can’t be overlooked here. Most of the people Covington met had minimal social status, big personal problems, had suffered tragedy after tragedy. Handling deadly animals, normally without harm, is a way of exercising control over “the world” which has come down so hard on these people. It shows that God is protecting them (if you get bit and die or get ill, it means you “misjudged the Spirit” and shouldn’t have been handling in the first place, if they get bit and the snake doesn’t inject venom, it is seen as a sign that God is protecting the believer) and shows them to be brave about themselves and their faith in a way that people outside their church aren’t. Insider/Outsider dichotomy is big here, as it normally is when looking at Appalachia.
Most don’t get bit. It may surprise people to find out that copperheads and rattlesnakes are not particularly aggressive snakes and can be handled, most only bite when provoked, and often “dry bite” that is don’t inject venom when they bite out of self-preservation.
I suspect this is a reason why you don’t see much religious snake handling in Africa. Try draping a black mamba around your neck and see what happens. :eek:
I probably shouldn’t have even posted me response, teasing or not. I’m from Texas and while I’ve heard that before about “dry bites” I usually handle snakes that I run into with a shovel or other implement of destruction before letting them get close enough to find out whether their bite is dry or not. Down around Houston, they get in our pool skimmers–and when I find one, I handle it alright!!! LOL!
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