Snake Handlers and the Holy Father

Who are the “snake handlers” and where do they come from? “Snake handlers” are a small group of Pentecostal Christians–started in Appalachia during the Holiness revival movements and still operating today. They get all worked up and get “the anointing” which means they enter a trance like state through hyper emotionalism then they pass around live rattlesnakes. If you get bit you’re a sinner and deserve to die. If you are not bitten or are bitten and survive you’re a true believer.

It comes from today’s gospel reading.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

I’m not defender of the snake handlers, but what has always struck me as intriguing about them is that they are theologically orthodox–as much as any other Baptist group might be. Some of them practice baptism in the name of Jesus only, so that’s off beam, but they’re not as off beam theologically as say, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Science, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness or Moonies. All these groups have some kind of extra-Biblical scriptures and have departed from orthodox Christianity in their professed teachings. Compared to them the snake handlers are pretty much mainstream Bible believing Christians.

The existence of the snake handlers with their peculiar and dangerous practices raises some questions of an ecumenical nature which are interesting and amusing. Read more.

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