Thursday, November 09, 2006
What's the Evidence of Being a Christian?
This past Sunday, 48-year-old Linda Long of London, Kentucky died at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. The cause of death was snakebite. Apparently Mrs. Long belonged to a Pentecostal Holiness church that practices snake handling as a part of their worship experience, or as they call it “serpent handling”. This past Easter a pastor, Dwayne Long, likewise died from handling poisonous snakes and is believed to have been the husband of Linda Long. Reporters were still trying to confirm their relationship at this writing.
Through the years you may have heard a reference from time to time about Christians who hold and handle poisonous snakes as a part of their worship. If you wondered if that were true or an exaggeration, it’s true. It primarily takes place in rural areas around the Appalachian states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia.
Apparently this practice originated in the first decade of the 20th century as a Pentecostal minister named George Went Hensley was preaching in eastern Tennessee when some men dumped a box of rattlesnakes in front of him as he was in the midst of his sermon. Hensley is said to have picked up the snakes while continuing his preaching and thus the practice began. Hensley died in 1955 from snakebite.
In the Bible there is a verse that says, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my [Jesus] name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:17-18, NIV)
The context of the verse is Jesus instructing His followers to go into the entire world and share the good news about salvation and forgiveness of sins. The point of the text is that while going for Christ, extraordinary things may happen that will encourage others to believe. Each of the things mentioned have happened from time to time. But nowhere is it suggested that “serpent handling” would validate or prove that one is a Christian.
This is a case of taking one verse and creating a far-reaching practice that can’t really be substantiated but is very effective in giving ammunition to skeptics as to why they should stay away from “those crazy church people.”
What you will find the Bible stating is the evidence that someone is a Christ follower is that they effectively and consistently “love one another”. There are dozens of these verses throughout the scripture.
Loving one another doesn’t have the drama of “serpent handling”. It is hard work, risky, opens one up to being treated unfairly and can literally cost you your life in some circumstances.
If you’re a seeker or even a skeptic examining the Christian faith, let me encourage you to reflect on whether the Christians you’re watching love others well. If you’re a believer reading this post, by all means “love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my [Jesus] disciples” (John 13:35).