“…Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man.'” Acts 10:25-26
Most Pentecostals believe in the major beliefs of the Christian faith but there are some that are extreme. One of them has gained a certain national notoriety via the National Geographic Channel. It’s called Snake Salvation. In at least one instance one of its pastors who was bitten at a service has died after refusing treatment. Who are these snake handlers? Why do they do what they do?
Well, they are one variety of the Pentecostal faith. Like some but not all Pentecostals they don’t believe in the Trinity. They think to achieve salvation you must speak in tongues (which in Acts 2, was a distinguishable language not gibberish!) and you must be fully immersed water baptized. To them they think repentance and a belief in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross just isn’t enough to achieve salvation.
This faith movement began in 1906 in the Appalachians Mountains where primarily it is still situated. Shortly after 1906, it kind of faded out of existence until about 1955. There are now about 100 churches with about 5000 members.
They take Christ’s statement in Mark 16:17-18, to be a command to take up and handle snakes. They believe that if you’re a true believer you won’t get bitten and if you do you won’t die. They even claim that Christ handled snakes. If they’re bitten they even reject medical treatment!
They cite Acts 28:3, as proof that a snake can’t harm a devout Christian. That’s the telling of how Paul was bitten by a viper on the island of Malta. The natives saw it and concluded that since he endured not only a fierce storm but a shipwreck that the god’s considered him evil and wanted him dead so they sent this snake to bite him. ‘Course when he didn’t die or even get sick they then concluded that he must be favored by the gods, or was one himself! Oh, how ready they were to worship him too! But the fact is Paul wasn’t looking to encounter a snake like these Pentecostals go out of their way to do, and snakes certainly weren’t deliberately brought into any of his churches.
When they handle these snakes they pick them up by their tails, wrap them around their arms, their necks, or put them into their clothes. They’ll throw them to one another, or put a bunch of them into a box then stand in it. They twirl them around like lassos. They do these things with rattlesnakes, copperheads, and sometimes even cobras. Even children are taught to handle them!
One of their members died once and they threw a rattlesnake into the coffin with the deceased!
In some of their churches they knowingly drink poison! They take what Christ said in Mark 16:18, literally. They call them “holy or salvation cocktails.” They pour some water into a glass, add rat poison (it’s usually strychnine based) and stir it up. Then when the Spirit hits them they drink it down shouting “Hallelujah!”
The late Pastor of Calvary Costa Mesa, Chuck Smith, once told the story of how a pastor made several members of his flock to drink a solution like this to prove they were up to serving as church board members. Some of them apparently died and the pastor was charged with 2nd degree murder!
Also, from Daniel 3:25, and Isaiah 43:2, where it talks about the Lord being with his chosen people when they go through fire they take that to mean that they should literally light a kerosene lamp and hold it to their hands or their faces! They call it “a bath of fire” or “a baptism of fire.”
When they do these things they think they’re displaying their holiness. But what are they really doing? Aren’t they really tempting God? In fact isn’t it tempting God bordering on the demonic or outright demonic itself?
Christ was once tempted by Satan to jump from the top of the Temple. What did Christ tell him? “It is written again, ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God'” Christ doesn’t want anyone to deliberately place themselves in harms way to prove their faith in Him. He doesn’t expect you to pick up and play with venomous snakes, or take on dangerous wild animals, to drink poison or bungee jump from high places to show your faithfulness. That’s Satan’s idea!
When you take the brakes off a car at a high rate of speed and point it towards a cliff you’re going to have an unfortunate reaction. When the brakes of Biblical truth are not used the result is kind of the same. Some people will arrive at a conclusion that they have to speak in tongues, drink poison, handle wild animals, or reject the Trinity, etc., to achieve salvation. They twist the simple truth of the Gospel. So what should we do?
Well, we can’t deny them their right to worship in their own way (at least the adults) but we can ask God to curtail such movements and save people from this lost spiritual state. We should ask him to visit his Holy Spirit upon their hearts and minds leading them to open their eyes and re-evaluate their worship practices to a manner pleasing to Him. He tells us how. All we need do is look for it.