You may or may not be familiar with the short-lived National Geographic Channel series SNAKE SALVATION. Perhaps you heard of it, or seen commercials advertising it, but you never watched it. If you were aware of it but chose not to watch it when it was on, or dvr it to watch it during a more convenient time for you, it most likely was because it just wasn't a topic interesting, or entertaining, to you. I myself, when I became aware of the series, set my dvr to record all of the episodes so I could watch them at a time that was not only convenient to me, but a time convenient to the two ladies in my household. You see they didn't want to watch it mainly because of, well, the legless co-stars, the snakes.
No doubt many who did not watch it simply don't like to watch snakes slithering around and certainly did not want to watch people handling them with their bare hands. Understandable. Myself, monkeys, chimpanzees in particular, "freak" me out to watch. I am not scared of them, I just don't like to watch them. To me they are nasty animals and what really irritates me is to see people dress monkeys and chimps up like they are human, that's just weird to me. But then seeing dogs, or cats, "dressed up" in human-like outfits weirds me too. Seeing animals wearing clothing don't offend me, it just gives me the creeps. Anyway, my point being is I understand that people have different likes and dislikes when it comes to animals and how they are presented. As for snakes I have had a few Black snakes, and even a Corn snake, as pets, that I kept in glass aquariums complete with heat lighting, water bowls and plenty of things to slither over, around and into. I kept them fed regularly with feeder mice bought from a local pet store. I never got around to purchasing a Boa or Python, the more typical (and much larger) pet snake breeds. That was years ago, in a different house, different place, and certainly not with the wonderful lady I am blessed with now. Perhaps some day, if I can talk her into it, I will get a pet Boa to keep in an aquarium here in the office. Non-venomous snakes are the easiest pets to care for, in my opinion, and they are fun to have in general. Keeping venomous snakes, on the other hand, is something else entirely, and for obvious reasons. A non-poisonous snake bite can be a little painful, and a little bloody, but it is otherwise harmless. A poisonous snake bites you and life becomes real interesting real fast.
The young hillbilly Holiness preacher of Campbell County, Tennessee, Andrew Hamblin, who was one of the "stars" featured on the NatGeo Snake Salvation series is currently facing State charges for having in his possession "dangerous snakes". In episodes of the show Hamblin was shown having to, well lets just say, keep a "low profile" while transporting snakes in his vehicle. Hamblin was not the only one shown having to avoid the prying eyes of "the law" on the show. There were episodes that also showed the young pastor going about town seeking signatures from members of the local community for a petition to get the laws changed so he could legally possess venomous snakes for religious practices.
Before I go any further I need to explain myself, my stance if you will, on the topic of snake handling in Christian congregations. I want to make a point of telling you what I think and believe about the doctrine and practice so you know that I am not just someone jumping on the bandwagon in condemnation, or support, of Hamblin, his congregation and other snake handling Christians.
First thing I need to say is I have a holiness background myself. I also lived in Tennessee in my early adult years. I never once crossed the threshold of a snake handling holiness church and I never knew any members of such a sect of holiness. I certainly had heard of them, but I never attended any such services. My pastor, now deceased, was named Sam Murphy, and he lived and held services in Watertown. I attended his services, and was even his assistant off and on, for about 5 years. I loved that man, and always will. He was more than my pastor, he was a mentor to me and like an uncle, even so, he was also a close friend. I miss him to this day and I have carried him in my heart all of these years. I studied hard the things he would teach, and though I came to not continue the typical holiness lifestyle, the basic teachings I learned from him continue with me to this day. "Holiness" is sometimes referred to by the terms "Charismatic", or "Pentecostal" (not to be confused with the actual Corporate Church Denomination by the same name) and even "Holy Roller" (usually a derogatory term used by outsiders). All Holiness sects are basically independent each having their own specific doctrines, and no two churches/congregations are exactly the same. The two main things that all Holiness congregations have in common is their belief in the physical manifestation of the Signs (or "Gifts") of the Holy Spirit and the belief that one must live a strict pious lifestyle including following a particular dress code. I still do, absolutely, believe in the existence of the "9 Signs" of the Holy Spirit ("Ghost") described in 1st Corinthians 12:7-11. Some (Christians) say those signs were done away with with the passing of the 1st century and others (Non-Christians and some Christians) say what people think are signs of the supernatural are simply psychosomatic behaviors, similar to the affect of mass hysteria (at worst) and/or a placebo affect (at best). In-other-words it's "all in their heads". This article is not about whether the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of God, causes people to prophecy, heal, discern, or have special knowledge they could not of learned on their own. I believe it still happens and that is all that matters to me. I can't convince anyone to believe something that only seeing would convince them of, if even that. This article is not about trying to convince anyone of anything, theologically, this article is about the FREEDOM OF RELIGION. Though I do believe in supernatural intervention, and I do believe in one letting himself/herself "go" and get as emotional and physical as they wish while worshiping and praising God, I do not believe one has to commit dangerously risky behavior to please God. In the Holy Bible there are amazing acts of faith portrayed, such as the young shepherd boy, David, taking on the large Philistine champion warrior, Goliath, or the three men allowing themselves to be thrown alive into a fire pit. only to come back out unhurt. In Matthew 4:7 Christ quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 to Satan who had challenged Him to jump off of a height said to be over 400 feet saying:
"It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God"
Christians that are Snake Handlers are well acquainted with both of the above verses, and no doubt they have had those verses thrown (quoted) at them over and over in their lives by other Christians that disagree with their picking up and handling of venomous vipers as a form of Christian worship.
But here is where things get less idealistic and more realistic: Christians that believe that they are supposed to handle poisonous snakes to prove (test) their holiness (righteousness) and as a "sign" that the Holy Spirit is with them don't believe they are tempting God! They honestly believe they are simply OBEYING GOD! So to tell them they are "tempting God" is waste of time!
Why do they think they are simply obeying God? Well first off they believe the Holy Spirit tells them when to pick up and handle poisonous snakes. As the NatGeo Snake Salvation episodes clearly show the handlers do not just handle snakes with their bare hands whenever they feel like it. Unless actually in church service they catch and handle the snakes with snake grabbers, hooks and poles. Only during services and only when they individually "feel led" or "told" by the Holy Spirit do they handle snakes bare handed. No one is made to hold a snake and no congregant and no visitors are told they are going to Hell if they don't join in the snake handling. I am sure that a long time member of the congregation would feel under a bit of unspoken "peer pressure" if they didn't handle a snake or two at least every now and then. But hey, it is a snake handling church so that would be understandable.
The second reason they think they are simply obeying God by having snake handling is because of a set of very specific verses that appear in the King James Version, and most other versions, of the New Testament. The verses are Mark 16:17 and 18 which say:
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 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.
On the Snake Salvation show some church members are seen holding bottles with fiery wicks to their hands and faces and not seeming to feel any pain or show any visual signs of burns. Drinking of strychnine is also presented to the viewer, but it is not a regular feature of the show. My ex pastor, Bro. Sam, told me of the one experience he had when he attended a snake handling church service, mostly out of curiosity. He said he witnessed a woman walk up to a pot belly wood stove that was the heater for the church building, which was very hot, and place her hands firmly on the metal. If you have ever used the old style pot belly stoves you know their outer surfaces can get very hot from even a modest fire inside them. He said it shocked him when she did that, but that he believed that the things he seen during that service were no more than hysteria, and not true signs of the Holy Spirit. Understand I have personally witnessed Brother Sam prophecy events he had no way of knowing would happen and yet they happened. So he certainly believed, and taught, that signs indeed DO follow those that believe in Jesus Christ.
The point of Christians that don't believe in handling poisonous snakes, or drinking poisonous substances, is that God's supernatural protection is only for when things happen from accident. Such as when Apostle Paul was actually bitten by a poisonous viper in the 28th chapter of the Book of Acts (see 28:3-6) and nothing happened to him, he felt no ill affects and did not die.
It is no wonder Paul was not hurt because Jesus clearly said in Luke 10:19:
"Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you."
I've explained to you that, though I DO believe in supernatural signs of the Spirit of God among Christians, I don't believe in handling venomous snakes, or drinking poison, and purposefully exposing myself to needless danger to worship God or to show my faith in Him. But now let me tell you the biggest reason why I don't agree with snake handling as a Christian ritual. It has to do with the verses it is based on, the ones I quoted above from Mark 16.
Most Bibles will print the last 12 verses, 9 through 20, of Mark chapter 16 but they will do so in a different or italic font and almost all versions will have a foot note saying something along the line as:
"Some of the most ancient manuscripts do not include verses nine through twenty"
Now without getting into a Bible translation issue here the King James Version of the Bible is PROVEN to have numerous spurious verses and terminology such as appears in it's 1st John 5:7. I, personally do not trust most mainstream translations of the New Testament and I discuss that a bit further in my article Holy Bible - Old & New.
Again, this is not a theological article, but I must lay out why I SUPPORT Pastor Andrew Hamblin's Religious Rights & Freedom by first explaining why I, as a Christian, DON'T SUPPORT snake handling in general. In so doing perhaps I can be of some sort of tiny help in getting the message out about the attack on this gentleman, and his congregation, and perhaps be part of those who are helping to garner him and his church the support they need so that they might eventually be left alone to worship God as they see fit.
Let me say that if I thought I could convince Pastor Hamblin that serpent handling is not what the Bible instructs Christians to do I would certainly reach out to him personally for a doctrinal discussion on the topic. But, I am not so naive that I could do such a feat. And at this point, I think the great Serpent he is battling now is a much more important issue than the small creatures he uses in worship services. As Hambin himself is quoted as saying:
“This is a fight for freedom of religion”
The State (Government) of Tennessee has saw fit to raid this man's property and steal his reptiles in the name of keeping the animals safe and the people of Tennessee safe. He has been charge with the State "sin" of Possession of Class-I wildlife, and he had 50 according to the citation. He has plead Not Guilty and is scheduled to go to court for a Preliminary Hearing Tuesday, December 17, 2013 (as I write this, Tuesday, December 10, about a week from now).
I want to say, now, that no matter what the outcome tomorrow or in any future court dates Hamblin is ordered by the king's court to appear at, this not going to end with the Government winning. Hamblin has already proven, in front of cameras, repeatedly, on a nationwide television show, that he is willing to break the rules of Government and defy. the rulers of State. I know Hamblin knows the following verse from Acts 5:
"We ought to obey God rather than men."
Hamblin lives his life according to his beliefs, and trying to follow the written Words of God to the best of his understanding and ability, and no doubt he has been mindful of the above quoted verse over the last few months. He knew the king's of Tennessee claim rule over the land, and over all of the animals, and over all of the people, and yet he still did not hesitate to procure venomous reptiles, transport and keep them.
Why how dare Hamblin poach the king's wildlife on the king's land! The insolent serf, don't he know the king owns everything because he says so and lords over all the land and everything living upon it only for the benefit of all his loyal subjects??!!
Watching the exchanges and "smuggling" of serpents on the show reminded me of other clandestine underground transactions such as the exchange or moving of marijuana or other "less than legal" substances or items. One can only hope Pastor Hamblin remembers his ordeal when he hears of people in his community, his in country, being treated like "criminals" by the State for other victimless pseudo "crimes".
The majority of preachers of this country have not spoken out against the tyranny of the "king" called Government (local, state and federal). They have not spoken out against the true Sins against Nature's God so it is no wonder they remain silent as the grave about the idolatry of the false god called State ("Government").
The majority of the preachers have failed the people because they fail to point out real Sin. They would rather make up their own forms of godliness to teach the people, and instead of speaking of the Commandments of God they would rather teach commandments of men.
With my holiness background I can tell you first hand that many of them make up their own outward standards of "godliness" and they twist, and wrest, Bible verses to justify their pharisee like standards that they judge everyone by. It is easy for them to condemn one thing that may not even be condemnable, yet totally ignore something else that is blatantly wrong. That is the mark of a pharisaical hypocrite.
I hope that, if anything, what comes out of this mess the State has thrown all over Hamblin is that he begin to see that there is a larger picture, that he is just one of thousands, millions, of victims of the Serpent called State.
I hope,and I PRAY, that Hamblin be left alone to worship, with his snakes, as he sees fit. But I know I too have a message to preach and that message is that the real serpents God's Children are to "tread on" (as Luke 10:19 says) are in human form.