Holy Snake Handling Batman!

Jamie Coots, a preacher in a church in Middlesboro, KY, died recently from a snake bite.  Coots was a “snake-handler” and frequently used snakes in the church as part of a show of “faith.”  This brand of Christianity is sadly still alive and well in the mountains of my home state of Kentucky, as well as Appalachia in general.  But Jamie Coots is dead.

You can read about his death here: http://rt.com/usa/snake-handling-pastor-dies-334/

In the article linked above, Coots, who was also on a TV show at some point, claimed God would never allow a true believer to die from a snake bite.  Yet, Coots’ son, also quoted in the article, said their family had always believed that their faith was good to live by and good to die by.  

I’m confused.  If it is good to die by this kind of faith, then what kind of faith are we speaking of?  Because Jamie Coots, by his own definition, must not have been a true believer in Jesus.  His “faith” must have been a “dead faith,” if you will pardon the pun (and I truly mean no disrespect to his grieving family).  The inconsistency in this warped Bible interpretation simply must be pointed out.  He died, in his own view, precisely because he did not have real faith.  So, how is this a good faith to die by?  Is it good to go to hell?  That is, after all, where unbelievers go (2 Thess 1:5-10; Rev 20:11-15).

Friends, this is the “word of faith” movement gone bad.  This is the “name is claim it” theology being exposed for what it really is – false.  First of all, Jamie Coots was breaking the law by handling snakes in a religious service.  My Bible tells me “to be in subjection to the governing authorities” (Rom 13:1) and to “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution whether to the king as the one in authority, or to governors” (1 Peter 2:13-14).  That’s not optional for Christians; it’s commanded!

So, unless the governing authorities were asking Coots to violate a clear command of God in Scripture, then he was obligated to obey the laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  And that’s just where Coots and other who believe like him go awry – they claim a mandate to handle snakes based on Mark 16:17-18.  Now even if this portion of the text was original in Mark’s Gospel (the oldest and best manuscripts have Mark ending at 16:8, so verses 9-20 were likely not written by Mark but added later by an ill-advised scribe), the fact is snake-handling is nowhere commanded.  Believers are not commanded to pick up snakes!

The Apostle Paul was bitten by a snake, and God did indeed preserve his life (Acts 28:1-6).  But note carefully that Paul did not intentionally pick up the snake or go looking for a fight with the slithering creature!  Can God preserve life whenever He wants and apart from the use of modern medicine?  Absolutely!  In fact God had preserved Jamie Coots’ life in the past when he was bitten and refused anti-venom.  So, what happened this time?  Was Jamie’s faith strong and sure in the past but waned during just this one instance?  Why could he not muster up the faith to stay alive this time?  Did his willpower just fail him?  Did he have a mental lapse?  Did he die in a moment of slight doubt?

This is the sad result of so much false doctrine that is makes my head spin.  Snake-handlers inevitably believe they can be saved one day and not saved the next day.  They believe this because they have a man-centered view of salvation and faith.  God has done his part, now it’s all up to you to muster up faith by your own willpower and then to sustain it in an ever-growing state throughout your life.  Their faith is in faith.

But the Bible says faith is a gift of God, (along with everything else having to do with salvation), not of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9).  Jesus authors faith, not us (Heb 12:1-2).  God grants belief to sinners whom He saves (Phil 1:29).  Not even the righteous works we do (of which faith is surely one), are the ultimate ground of our salvation, but rather God’s mercy and regenerating Spirit that come to us through Christ (Titus 3:4-7).  And saving faith is always and only in the perfect person and work of Jesus the Christ, whom God put on the cross to bear His wrath against our sins, so that He would be the just and justifier (Romans 3:21-26).

Would people watching Coots’ play with snakes and survive bites be more likely to boast in the righteousness of Christ, or the strength of Jamie’s faith?

Oh how I wish Jamie Coots would have been able to say with the Apostle Paul: “I know Whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim 1:12).  Do you see Paul’s saving faith rests not in his own ability to sustain it at a certain level, but rather in God’s ability to keep him safe and saved now and forever?  Saving faith is always a total trust in God’s power, God’s ability, God’s sustaining grace in Christ.  This is not faith in faith!  

Oh how I wish Jamie Coots could have cried out with the man in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, help my unbelief.”  This is saving faith.  Never so arrogant as to rest on its own strength or human ability to sustain; but always seeking more mercy, more grace from Jesus.  It’s all about Him!  

Word-of-faith and “name it claim it” and “faith healing” movements preach a false gospel.  Plain and simple.  They focus on man and his supposed abilities, even claiming man can create or shape his own future by his mere words.  But the gospel is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and was buried, and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).  We’re the sinners.  He’s the Savior.  It’s all about Him!

Sadly, the death of Jamie Coots serves as a harsh reminder that false gospels lead to more than just physical death.  After all, physical death will one day come knocking at everyone’s door.  But for those whose faith is in anyone or anything other than the absolute sufficiency of Jesus Christ, an eternal “death” awaits them in a place that makes a snake bite look like child’s play.

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