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Switch to Forum Live View Should Testing Your Faith Be Your Choice or God's?
2 years ago  ::  Jun 02, 2012 - 3:24PM #1
Merope
Posts: 8,786

This questions arises in an odd (IMO) context: That of a Pentecostal pastor who recently died - like his father before him - of rattlesnake bite while handling the snake.  USA Today has the story of "a belief in miracles that defies rational understanding" and poses the question.

Pastor Mack Wolford, the son of a snake-handling pastor who died from a rattler bite, lived by faith and died last Sunday the snake's bite.


Wolford, 44, "a flamboyant Pentecostal pastor from West Virginia," refused treatment for the snake bites and died within hours of a Sunday afternoon service in an isolated park.


The Washington Post Magazine profiled Wolford last year:



Mack Wolford was known all over Appalachia as a daring man of conviction.  He believed that the Bible mandates that Christians handle serpents to test their faith in God - and that, if they are bitten, they trust in God alone to heal them.



An earlier piece detailed how Woford had combed the backwoods of West Virginia for the snakes he kept in his back bedroom for his prayer events at the isolated, tiny Church of the Lord Jesus



... in an unincorporated hamlet of 1,191 souls has been world-famous for its death-defying handlers of serpents.  Reporters, researchers, photographers and TV crews have come here to track Pentecostals who brandish poisonous snakes, drink strychnine and play with fire as a testimony of their faith...


Mark 16:17-18 mandates that true Christians "take up serpents and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover...



Wolford told the Magazine interviewer last year how the passion to believe survived the pain of his father's death:



Those who die from snakebites are never criticized for lack of adequate faith; it is believed that it was simply the deceased's time to die.  Still, Wolford says he went wild after his father's death, getting arrested for armed robbery and kidnapping when he was 18 and spending a year and a half in jail.  Booze destroyed his first marriage and was destroying his second when he repented at 30, and "God took the taste for alcohol away from me."  He quit his job as a loom technician in a North Carolina cotton factory and became a pastor.  But that was not enough to satisfy him.


Despite the way his father died, Wolford wanted to travel to the radical edges of Christianity, where life and death gaze at you every time you walk into a church and pick up a snake.



And so he died, surrounded by the prayers of family and believers.


So ... what about this snake-handling practice? And in terms of testing your faith, whose choice is it - yours or God's?

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2 years ago  ::  Jun 02, 2012 - 4:55PM #2
Theo
Posts: 4,620

In every school I know of, the teachers are the ones who give the tests. Likewise in the school of life - God tests our hearts and our faith by the adversities of life.


As far as handling poisonous snakes - stupid is as stupid does. It's right up there with drinking poison on purpose as a test of faith. 


Most Bible teachers do not believe Jesus was literally teaching that Christians should handle poisonous snakes, reason being... Scripture does not show any examples of Christians handling snakes as a test of their faith. Paul was once bitten by an asp, but there is no indication that this was done as a sign or a test of his faith. The fact that he did not suffer and die from the snake bite did amaze the natives on the island, but it was not what I would call a genuine miracle. Paul may have been bitten, but poisoned? maybe not. If he was actually injected with snake's venom, than yes a miracle happened... but even so, nothing in there says that Christians should go and do likewise.


But, given what snakes represent in Scripture, Jesus did give His Disciples power over evil spirits. And personally, that is what I believe Jesus meant in Mark 16.


Pentecostal snake handlers are fortunately not characteristic of Pentecostalism in general... so I would stay as far away from them as possible. They are nothing but "brotherlove showboaters" and I have no respect for their irresponsible antics whatsoever. Stupid is as stupid does, and in this case stupid got bit and died... making a mockery of those who believe in Christ.


~ Theophilus

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2 years ago  ::  Jun 02, 2012 - 7:35PM #3
Ironhold
Posts: 10,913

Ray Stevens - "Smokey Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat"


Given just how overtly religious a person Ray Stevens is (he's done several gospel albums in addition to his novelty numbers), it should say something when even he finds the practice just that rediculous.

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2 years ago  ::  Jun 04, 2012 - 6:40AM #4
jesusfreakgal
Posts: 937

 I personally believe that OUR testing of God is wrong. To me, it suggests lack of faith, in that the person. In a way, it is like the person is saying that they have to do some dangerous thing and have God protect them and/ or heal them in order for them to know/ have security that God will do so. To me, there is a significant difference a person having something (such as cancer) occur to them, and that person having the faith that God will heal them, and quite another for someone to purposely bring things upon themselves (such as handling of snakes/ other poisonous creatures, walking across Niagara Falls, or other VERY dangerous things) believing that God will heal/ protect them. One suggests that we have faith, while the other (IMO) suggests that we need confirmation.  On the other hand, I believe that when WE are tested, God is trying to make a point of something. I also believe that God doesn’t give us more then we can handle, so when we are tested, it wouldn’t be a test so great that in the end we end up in despair and having killed ourselves.


JFG

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2 years ago  ::  Jun 04, 2012 - 1:46PM #5
Merope
Posts: 8,786

Jun 4, 2012 -- 6:40AM, jesusfreakgal wrote:


 I personally believe that OUR testing of God is wrong. To me, it suggests lack of faith, in that the person. In a way, it is like the person is saying that they have to do some dangerous thing and have God protect them and/ or heal them in order for them to know/ have security that God will do so. To me, there is a significant difference a person having something (such as cancer) occur to them, and that person having the faith that God will heal them, and quite another for someone to purposely bring things upon themselves (such as handling of snakes/ other poisonous creatures, walking across Niagara Falls, or other VERY dangerous things) believing that God will heal/ protect them. One suggests that we have faith, while the other (IMO) suggests that we need confirmation.  On the other hand, I believe that when WE are tested, God is trying to make a point of something. I also believe that God doesn’t give us more then we can handle, so when we are tested, it wouldn’t be a test so great that in the end we end up in despair and having killed ourselves.


JFG



I think these are really wise insights, JFG :-) 


Your comments about our testing God resonate with me.  There's a moment in Scripture in which Isaiah (I think) takes one of the kings to task for testing God - actually, for trying the patience of God.  It's a funny moment and quite sarcastic, but very wise.


I think your comments about snake-handling being the kind of reckless display of lack of faith and need for reassurance of God's love are also very well-taken. Apparently, this particular guy had a spare room full of poisonous snakes.  He used to lie down with them, dance with them and wrap them around his neck.  And this was in private - not in a worship service.

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2 years ago  ::  Jun 04, 2012 - 1:51PM #6
Merope
Posts: 8,786

One of the bloggers at the HuffPo observes that this kind of reckless behavior is also a search for ecstasy in religious experience.  He observes that "an overwhelming penchant for ecstasy ... is imbalanced and, in [this] case, altogether too dangerous."  He goes on to make an important point:  "Our Christian roots do not prize ecstasy at the expense of intellect, emotions without reason."


He goes on to connect the dots with his perception of rural West Virginia, including the state's very geography.  He talks about the limits of life there. He says: "If you've ever driven through rural West Virginia, you see those limits firsthand: deep ravines, curving rivers dotted with chemical plants. It's perennial dusk in some places, a shadowy land without a horizon.  Snake-handling, poison-drinking - these are the things that bring transcendence, light, sunshine to a few dreary churches in the valleys of West Virginia."


So there's this notion of a quest for ecstasy in the religious life quite apart from the notion of testing God or ourselves.


What do y'all think about that?

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2 years ago  ::  Jun 04, 2012 - 1:55PM #7
Merope
Posts: 8,786

Jun 2, 2012 -- 4:55PM, Theo wrote:


In every school I know of, the teachers are the ones who give the tests. Likewise in the school of life - God tests our hearts and our faith by the adversities of life.



I like this point, Theo. 


I'm personally not sure how I feel about the notion of God testing us; I sometimes think a better paradigm would work for me.  But I still think your point is well-taken.

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2 years ago  ::  Jun 04, 2012 - 5:16PM #8
TemplarS
Posts: 6,249

The passage in question (Mark 16:18) is from the so-called "long" ending of Mark.  Since this does not appear in the earliest manuscripts, there is not universal agreement as to its authenticity.  It is not contained in any other Gospel.


In any case, as distinct from other parts of this passage, it is descriptive and not prescriptive.  "They will handle snakes" as opposed to "Go into the world and preach the Gospel".  So it is untrue to say that Jesus commanded his followers to handle snakes.


This is similar to the context of the other NT reference.  In Acts there is an account of Paul being bitten by a poisonous snake and recovering- but this was accidental, Paul certainly did not do this as a proof of his faith.


 

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2 years ago  ::  Jun 04, 2012 - 9:32PM #9
SeraphimR
Posts: 8,328

Jun 4, 2012 -- 1:51PM, Merope wrote:


One of the bloggers at the HuffPo observes that this kind of reckless behavior is also a search for ecstasy in religious experience.  He observes that "an overwhelming penchant for ecstasy ... is imbalanced and, in [this] case, altogether too dangerous."  He goes on to make an important point:  "Our Christian roots do not prize ecstasy at the expense of intellect, emotions without reason."


He goes on to connect the dots with his perception of rural West Virginia, including the state's very geography.  He talks about the limits of life there. He says: "If you've ever driven through rural West Virginia, you see those limits firsthand: deep ravines, curving rivers dotted with chemical plants. It's perennial dusk in some places, a shadowy land without a horizon.  Snake-handling, poison-drinking - these are the things that bring transcendence, light, sunshine to a few dreary churches in the valleys of West Virginia."


So there's this notion of a quest for ecstasy in the religious life quite apart from the notion of testing God or ourselves.


What do y'all think about that?




What an elitist that fellow is!


I'd be willing to bet that the hillbillies in West Virginia are closer to God than Huffpo bloggers any day.




The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.
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2 years ago  ::  Jun 05, 2012 - 10:40AM #10
weberhome02
Posts: 1,697

.
I lived in San Diego County forty years before moving to northwest Oregon. During those years I experienced something like seventeen close encounters of a third kind with rattlers-- a few instances potentially fatal --but managed to survive unscathed because I didn't try picking them up with my bare hands while they were alive.


Another benefit associated with believers is the power of healing. Maybe that preacher man should have taken that up as proof of his faith instead of tempting fate with toxic reptiles.


†. Mrk 16:17-18 . . And these signs shall follow them that believe. In my name . . . they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.


†. 1Cor 12:30 . . Do all have gifts of healing?


No; not all have gifts of healing. So then, I think it's reasonable to assume that not all are immune to snakebite either.


Cliff
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