Southern Baptist Snake Salvation

I’ve never known a snake handling pastor before. I did know a pastor who managed to get poison ivy in his lungs one time but that’s about as close as it gets. But there are several pastors, perhaps you are one of them or you learn from one of them, who are living a lifestyle just as deadly and just as theologically off base as snake handling reverends.

Jamie Coots and Andrew Hamblin are snake handling pastors who are featured on The National Geographic Channel’s Snake Salvation. For Coots, Hamblin and their followers, taking up poisonous snakes is just as important as baptism and the Lord’s supper. One follower even said that he wouldn’t be saved if he quit handling deadly snakes during worship services.

This faulty theology cites Jesus’ words in Mark 16:18 as verification of the practice.

“They will pick up serpents with their hands.” 

Jesus wasn’t referring to the practice of hunting rattlesnakes, playing with them in church and calling it an ordinance. Paul’s snake handling experience is more in tune with Jesus’ words.

When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. Acts 28:3-6 (ESV)

No snake hunting. Just the power of God when the unexpected happened. Plain and simple.

But still Jamie Coots, Andrew Hamblin and others like them regularly leave their families behind in order to go hunting for a few snakes and the favor of God. Remove the snakes from that scenario and you’ve just described the lifestyle of many evangelical pastors and church leaders.

Sure, we would never say that 70-hour work weeks earn God’s favor. But it will earn the church’s favor. And really, isn’t that just as good?

It’s not.

And calling it “the Lord’s work” doesn’t make it better.

You are much more likely to do “the Lord’s work” while you take the kids outside so your wife can have a break than you are if you spend your evening hours away from your family in some meeting working out the details of Christian skate night at Big Ralph’s Roller Barn.

The men on Snake Salvation repeatedly tell their wives that the church comes before them as they head out the door, leaving their bride to care for their 8 children so that they can find new snakes to play with. And usually, the wife submits.

It’s hard to argue with the Lord’s work, isn’t it?

In his letter to a young pastor named Timothy, Paul puts things in a different order for those who lead the church.

“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (ESV) 

Paul’s message is clear. If you really want to lead the church well, your family must come before the church. Not before Jesus. But definitely before the church.

But that’s a hard message for people pleasers and those seeking justification by man’s approval. Telling someone in your church no so that you can make it to your daughter’s dance recital might win you a few enemies and it might earn you an unwanted reputation.

“That pastor is okay. He just doesn’t visit enough.”

Fine. Just remember that the same thing was said about Peter and James and John (Acts 6:1).

Eventually, snake handler’s get bit, their wives get mad and their church scatters. Theirs is a lifestyle that lends itself to death, both physical and spiritual.

Evangelical pastors who let others manage their time for them get bit too. And because they worked and lived as if it all depended on them, once the inevitable happens, they leave in their wake a worn down family and a confused church. Theirs too is a lifestyle that lends itself to death, both physical and spiritual.

A pastor friend of mine was confronted by his wife about an affair. His heart sank. He was shocked that his wife knew anything about his mistress. It turns out, she knew more about the other woman than he did.

His mistress was the church that he pastored. Heartbroken, his wife told him that he seemed to love the mistress more than her.

He couldn’t argue with her.

It’s hard to argue with not doing the Lord’s work, isn’t it?