Is being forbidden to take up a serpent religious persecution? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Here in TN, some of the big news lately has involved Andrew Hamblin and his snake handling. I have written previously on that here and here. As I live in Knoxville, I see much of this being talked about and frankly, I am concerned.
I am concerned at seeing a church where most people are not learning how to think and the great danger that anyone can say “God moved me” or “God told me” and that justifies anything. This is not to say that God cannot tell people to do things. He’s God. If He wants to, He will, but one needs to have a way in mind to know that it is indeed God speaking. Without that, one has no basis upon which to say someone is being moved by God or instructed by Him and someone else isn’t. We put ourselves in a dangerous position if we seek to put a divine source behind our feelings.
Yet I see people in fact making such a claim. “If God tells someone to take up a serpent, who are we to disagree? Who are we to judge?” One wonders if we can say that if God tells someone to drown their children in a bath tub, who are we to disagree? Who are we to judge? If God tells someone to go on a shooting spree for Allah, who are we to disagree, who are we to judge?
Who we are are rational people that claim to know the God of the universe. The reality is if you are a Christian, you claim to know something about what God is like. You claim to know that God has revealed Himself in Christ and that God also will not contradict His nature. (And if you do not know this, then I urge you to educate yourself on the nature of Christianity. One of the best books you can get and still one for the layman as well can be found here.
If you’re someone who says “I’m not going to judge,” in some ways, you are already judging. Now there is a point to saying “I’m not going to speak yet because I haven’t looked into the issue,” and that’s fine. For me, the issue is clear, but to you if it isn’t, I have no problem with you going out and looking into it and coming back and making a judgment.
The problem comes when you say “I can’t judge and neither should you. No one can speak on this matter.” You’ve already made a statement that maybe this isn’t God at work, but at the same time, this doesn’t contradict the work of God either. What you are claiming is that the behavior is entirely consistent with the nature of God.
That’s quite a judgment isn’t it?
In our world today, the church views judge as a dirty word. It’s not. Matthew 7:1 does not say “Don’t ever judge.” It says to not judge hypocritically. Watch your standard of judgment. That’s what you will be judged by. If your standard of judgment is Scripture, then you must also be held to that same Scripture.
So when it comes to taking up venomous snakes in church, if you say no one can judge, you are in fact saying that this is consistent with God. We have no way of knowing if God is or is not telling people to not take up those kinds of snakes.
In wanting to avoid judging, you make a most severe judgment.
Now another claim being made also is that this is persecution and we need to remember the separation of church and state.
It’s so funny because usually Christians are the ones arguing against separation of church and state. Properly understood, it is a position I hold to. I in no way want to have the state married to Christianity. The problem is this is not a separation of church and state issue.
This is an issue of public safety and the law against holding venomous snakes like that is there for the safety of the public. It is not an arbitrary law without a moral basis. If one thinks it is, they simply need to come up with a reason why first off, the state should not care about people being able to take up venomous snakes, second, why they should drop the old law, and then third why they should in fact promote the churches that want to do this.
Until that is done, this is not the state trying to persecute.
How do I know some of this? Well I did something that I guess shouldn’t be done in finding out such information. I contacted the TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) myself. Yeah. I’m sure that’s terribly unorthodox. They could not comment on the case itself, which is understandable, but they could answer my questions on the snakes. In fact, my wife and I went to the free zoo day at the Knoxville Zoo and I spoke to someone in the office of herpetology (Which includes the study of snakes).
Both references showed me the dangers of these serpents. They are class I, the most dangerous class, for a reason. Their bites could lead to amputations by damaging blood cells and nerve cells and in some cases, could lead to death. This would be especially so for the children and for the elderly. To be able to handle these snakes, one must be a trained professional. My own wife as I said would like to have a fox someday, a class III animal, and she would require certification.
In fact, the Knoxville Zoo has even said that there were 53 snakes in Hamblin’s possession and some of them were in bad condition. Having just one snake would be a huge responsibility in itself, but how could one possibly care for 53 snakes? I do not even think I saw 53 snakes that day at the zoo. No doubt, they don’t keep all the snakes out, but if it takes a place like a zoo to care for that many snakes, how can a single church building do it?
If these snakes aren’t being cared for, then who knows what will happen if they get out and are hungry? This includes snakes like boa constrictors. Boa constrictors are indeed capable of killing children and would be more likely to do so I’m sure if especially hungry.
Now some people are comparing this to anointing oil or a King James Bible. If the state makes a law against these without a rational basis, and I contend that there isn’t one, then indeed it is an unjust law and one we are not obligated to obey, but the law against venomous snakes does have a rational basis and if we choose to defy it, we are actually acting out of pride and saying we are above the law.
So on what grounds could we argue against Muslims who want to claim the same in the name of Allah?
As for persecution, this is not persecution. Too often Christians in America are way too quick to scream “Persecution!” If someone dares to insult Christianity, we cry out that persecution has taken place. Being offended is not the same as being persecuted. Being mocked is not the same as being persecuted.
If you want to hear about real persecution, just listen to stories of Christians in Muslim or communist countries. In these places, you can be killed for owning a Bible. To take the name of Christ on your lips is to put yourself in the eye of the government as a target. Don’t count on them to defend you. They are opposed to you. This was in fact the position of the early Christians.
If we look at what we go through and say that it is just what they went through, we are disgracing our brothers and sisters in the world who are undergoing real suffering on behalf of Jesus. We should all be humble in the face of that. Now I am open to the possibility that that persecution will come. I think we’ve opened ourselves up to it by refusing to stand up for Christ. Should my time come, I hope I would be ready to die for Christ. I’d like to say I would do so with certainty, but the example of Peter in Scripture makes me hesitant to do so. It is easy to talk, but when reality comes, let us hope our actions will be in accordance and for readers, pray for me that they would be if the time came.
What we need to ask ourselves in the church is if the taking up of snakes is really what we want to make our rallying case. Do we want to say that God supports or encourages this or sees it as something that should be done? We’re making a statement either way.
If you want to support, do something to support those Christians who are really suffering persecution elsewhere. Do something to support the work of spreading the gospel more and more. Don’t just support prayerfully and financially, but give of yourself in the work. Be willing to put yourself out there where you can.
In the body of Christ, we all have different roles to play. Mine’s that of Christian apologetics. This is what God used to open me up to the reality of who He is after all. It brings me great joy to defend Christianity and to help people who are struggling with their doubts. This happens not only on this blog, but in private emails that come in regularly.
But you know what? Not everyone is meant to do this. Now I think every Christian is to have a basic apologetic. Every Christian should be able to make some case for the resurrection of Jesus. Not every Christian is to be a scholar and that is the difference. We need scholars who are Christians, but we don’t need all Christians to be scholars.
We need Christians who are doctors. We need them who are teachers. We need them who are astronomers and scientists and garbage pick-up men and plumbers and CEO’s and most anything else. We need Christians who can witness to someone on the street and Christians who do so through the means of the computer. We need Christians who work in soup kitchens and with the sick and homeless and those in need and we need Christians who are in the classroom teaching the next generation. We need all of them.
We have to watch ourselves by what we support for that is what the world sees. They need to know that we are devoted to Christ and we take a representation of Him seriously and any attacks that come against him just as seriously and realize that not all battles are divine battles just because they involve a Christian.
Many of you out there are concerned about the state of America. So am I. The reality is we have more means than the early church did, more technology, more ability, in some ways more knowledge (Unfortunately, we don’t have people with firsthand experience of the resurrection of Jesus so much and the culture is different), etc. The church had far far less at the start and overcame the Roman Empire. If we don’t do so much with what we have been given, we will be held accountable to Almighty God.
Let any reader choose the way they will go forward. I’ve already chosen how I’m going to fight this battle. I see the apologetics ministry as absolutely necessary for reclaiming our world for Christ. I do not see snake handling at all that way, and in fact see it as a detriment.
If you want to defend it, by all means go ahead, but you have also in fact made a judgment about God. I just ask that you seek to see if you are right, because the greatest judge of all will not be mocked or fooled.