"ROSE HILL, Va. — A preacher bitten by a rattlesnake as he handled it during an Easter service at
a rural church died after refusing medical treatment, authorities said. The Rev. Dwayne Long died
a day after being bitten on a finger during a service at his church, where members believe ritual
serpent-handling is a form of obedience to God, said Sheriff Gary Parsons.
'We don't anticipate any charges,' he said. 'That's their belief.'
No one attending the service at the Pentecostal church sought medical help, Parsons said.
Members believe when people die from a snakebite during a service, it is a sign that it was their time to go."
So ran the story from the Rose Hill, Virginia paper this week. Yes, there are churches that believe in handling snakes as a part of their worship services. From time to time, as a result, headlines and story lines like that above are seen. Why do they do such things?
They do such things because they believe the following passage has reference to believers of all ages. Mark tells us (Mk. 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."
However, such is a "mishandling" of the passage in question. We need to realize that today, the miraculous age has passed, as First Corinthians 13 clearly teaches. Furthermore, the passage does not anywhere indicate that such handling of snakes, even in the age of miracles, was part of the worship service. Neither were such instances used to show off the powers that they had. Rather, it simply points out that during that age one who had miraculous gifts and was bitten could be saved from the deadly venom. It is interesting to note that most "snake handlers" would not dare to carry out the second part of the passage which teaches of drinking deadly poison!
Also of note is the statement that, "Members believe when people die from a snakebite during a service, it is a sign that it was their time to go." They believe they are "obeying God" when they do thus but, if anything goes wrong, then it was simply that person's "time to die." Does that not make God capricious? Nowhere does the text in Mark 16 indicate that they would only be saved from harm should it not be "their time to go." Furthermore, how do they know that the death had to do with the individual's "time to go" rather than it being that the individual was not a "believer" — even in their understanding of the term?
It is sad how people look to men for guidance rather than rightly dividing the word of truth. However, "snake handlers" and their followers are not the only ones who need to study the word. All who seek to teach for doctrines the commandments of men need to learn this lesson since such makes one's worship vain (Matt. 15:9).