Snake Handling in the Age of Cornavirus

A few years ago, Cody Coots was preaching in the pulpit his father left empty after his death in 2014. Like his father before him, Cody pastors the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Tennessee. And like his father before him, Cody Coots had just been bitten by a snake. Unlike his father, Cody would survive his wounds only because his friend Big Cody threw him over his shoulder and carrired him to the hospital against his will.

Cody’s father Jamie Coots followed in his father’s footsteps of snake-handling. As disciples of Geroge Went Hensley, they learned that the test of their faith was their ability to trust that the God of the Bible can be trusted to protect and heal. That would be fine if it ended there. But of course it doesn’t end there.

Virtue Signaling Gone Amuck

Virtue signaling is never satisfied.

Virtue signaling is never satisfied. Click To Tweet

The snake-handling sects of central Appalachia have determined to not only believe God, but show their faith to others by putting God to the test as an act of faith. They parade poisonous snakes in their services to show to others what faith looks like.

At the end of the Gospel of Mark, he writes that those that believe God can cast out demons, speak in new tongues, take up serpents and drink poison without harm. These are trusty promises to those that find themselves in an unwanted dangerous situation. These folks take it a step further and put themselves in dangerous situations to show the power of God.

It is no surprise to anyone that many of their pioneers, including George Hensley and Cody’s father, died from snake bites. Both of them declared that it was the Lord’s will that they die and not be taken to the hospital.

I will agree only to the extent that if God created poisonous snakes, it was His will that we stay away from them. To most people this is not a complicated concept. Only, it really is. Religious extremism is difficult to untangle in the mind of the person ensnared.

Radicalized faith always needs to outperform our neighbor.

It seems perfectly reasonable to demonstrate your faith in God as being truly genuine by handling snakes, denying science, or blowing yourself up.

Christanity is a belief system completely built on the belief that a person is justified before God based on nothing they can do in and of themselves but on what a divine someone did for us. It is the very core of Christianity to not only surrender the need to demonstrate trust in God externally, but the surrender of the ability to do so.

Snake-Handling Tests for Non-Pentecostals

Before my conversion to Christ, I asked a friend if his Pentecostal church handled snakes. He had no idea what I was talking about. Most Pentecostals do and they have to fight the image the fringe elements of our faith paint for us.

Those who are most radicalized often do the least about of thinking, questioning, and listening. But they also do the most amount of proselytizing.

Once it enters one radical’s mind that there is a way to prove their faith, and disprove the faith of their imagined adversary, it’s game-on and no amount of reason will deter them.

This is in part why many deny the true existence of the modern, personal Spirit-baptism. They have convinced themselves that the portions of the New Testament they have not experienced were temporary. While the portions that they can reason, are for today.

This is precisely why I find it odd that so many that would never preach the speaking in tongues are publicly urging their congregations to purposefully encounter serpents.

It is an undeniable fact that among the most risky things a person could do in this season is to fill a closed space with people and have them sing at the top of their lungs.

To begin physically meeting as a church is one of the heaviest decisions church leaders can make in this time. Many, many are doing so with wisdom and care. Others are doing it out of sheer bravado. This is not radical faith, its radicalized faith and it does not honor God.

I would prefer to physically handle a rattlesnake myself. We know far more about the handling of deadly snakes than Covid-19. We have anti-venom for snake bites.

And all these careless leaders have for Coronavirus is thoughts and prayers.

Truth Over Ideology

I recently watched the Netflix show Waco, which is a tv series about the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas led by the devilishly clever David Koresh (not his real name). Without getting into the fictionalizations in the storytelling, the show rightly portrayed Koresh as the center of this offshoot of Seventh Day Adventists and how his personal teaching gift became the locus of their faith. It was his contention that all the Scripture pointed toward the seven seals of the Book of Revelation. He taught that faithful followers of God pursued the knowledge contaied in these sealed documents and their key to gaining that knowledge was Koresh himself. In order to be a successful cult leader, one must shift the focus from Jesus revealing the nature of God, toward the fulfillment of human desire through the cult leader. Every cult is based on this.

The teachings of Jesus are pretty clear, give up what you think is important. Focus on what God calls important. Lay down your life if that’s what it takes. Add value to the lives of others. It’s pretty simple when you take the teachings of Jesus at face value but all too often, people don’t want simple. They want super-spiritual convoluted teachings that make them feel special because of their insight.

The crazy shift

Jesus knew he was teaching people who needed rules. Their mind could not yet comprehend a system whereby they would have a personal, dynamic relationship with the God of heaven. So like Moses of old, he came down with commandments. He said that his new commandment was to love one another. This was not a suggestion, philosophy, or a religion. It was a commandment. He said that this new relational dynamic would be so remarkable that people outside the community would see and be so impacted that they would know that only God could be working in their lives. He again appealed to the desire to keep laws. He said that if you love God you will keep this commandment to love.

This is the crazy shift that Jesus brought. He connected our relationship with God to our relationship with each other in no uncertain terms. Over half the Ten Commandments teach this, but we missed it for hundreds of years. But Jesus said we were not alone in this quest to follow his love leadership. He promised another Helper. This Parakletos is not our servant, he is an advocate with the Father who gives us the ability to do what we could not do on our own. He empowes us to love. Those not connected to Jesus would not understand this love power but the promise was that we would.

It was this empowerment that Jesus called the Spirit of Truth. This empowering advocate will turn our thoughts to Jesus, and in turn, we will turn other’s thoughts to Jesus. Here is that connection between our relationship with God and other people. The Holy Ghost is the bridge between our heavenly relationship and our worldly relationships. Jesus is drawing a clear line. We are commanded to follow truth as sent by Jesus, not ideologies as formulated by people.

Truth or Ideology

An ideology is a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory or policy.

Truthcomes from the Spirit of God. It is the conviction of Holy Spirit  who said he would testify about Jesus, our God who laid down his life for us.

How do we find this truth?

When we connect with Holy Spirit he guides us into the truth. This is a foundation of Pentecostal theology. This is why we pray in tongues. This is why we seek Charismatic experiences. We want to encounter God so we can be further guided into his truth. The promise is that if we live by this system of encountering God and walking in the truth, we will live a life of joy. 

Jesus came to level the playing field

Jesus came to a world fraught with ideological strife and taught followers to set our focus on truth. The Father moved heaven and earth so that we can display the kingdom of heaven to the world around us.

Jesus sent his Spirit to give us all the supernatural ability to be a touchpoint of the kingdom of God. We each have access to the riches of the Kingdom with the ability to distribute the wealth of our heavenly Father as we see need. This ability has a byproduct of personal reward but when the motivation is personal reward, that which is holy, the sharing of the Kingdom, becomes corrupt. The material rewards of following Jesus have the potential of overshadowing the real rewards in heaven we are supposed to be focusing on, and when this happens, it brings out the worst in people and damages the reputation of our Savior.

The Christ did not come to bring us a higher quality of worldly experience. He did not leave heaven, put on flesh, subject himself to humanity, so we could satisfy our egos in a more efficient manner. Nor did he come so we could quiet our conscience while we extracted the most value for ourselves while devaluing our fellow man. We know we are experiencing spiritual maturity when we realize we are not in competition with anyone. There is no competition. Jesus invites us into a life in the kingdom of God where there is always enough for everybody. Those who have not had their minds transformed are still in the competition of the world where there is a the law of zero sum gain. Your victory is my defeat.

Real joy comes from knowing Jesus

When people don’t know God, they think he is focusing on Presidential elections, economic activity, or personal freedom.   These poor souls lay down the life of joy that Jesus promised for earthly riches. They are then deceived into thinking that he is willing to bend his morals so they will never need to be uncomfortable. This is the deception that makes people think Jesus came to protect our ideologies. This self-centered focus in the name of Jesus alone defines their truth. Though they may compile volumes of Scripture, they are always learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth.

This was the devilish plan of David Koresh. He would argue people into the belief that what was best for him was best for them. This led to him comadeering their money, their labor, their wives and daughters, and ulitmately their lives. But this all started with him becoming the gatekeeper of their relationship with God.

We have modern gatekeepers. They are not selling sheep in the temple, they are selling ads on tv and our future for their gain.

I plan to walk in the conviction of Holy Spirit and point out their lies so that I can walk in the joy of the Lord. I hope you join me on the mission.