Sunday, May 20, 2007

Snake handling on the rise in Baptist churches

According to a new report, snake handling is on the rise within Baptist churches across the country. The report, released by NAMB this past Tuesday, says that the practice of snake handling as part of Sunday morning worship services has risen in Baptist churches from 2% in 2006 to 17% this spring.

Al Wittner, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Baton Rouge, LA reported the exciting results of snake handling. According to Wittner, "A few weeks ago, we began with just a few black snakes. The folks in the pews felt a little uneasy at first, but they warmed up to it very quickly. By this past Sunday, we added Rattlers and Copperheads. I think the added dimension of poison really increased interest. We had at least 40% of our members in attendance, which was the highest percentage in years."

NAMB's report also indicates that some churches are planning on adding snake handling as a third ordinance. Along with baptism and the Lord's Supper, snake handling will be a regular part of church gatherings. Pastor Wittner said, "We haven't yet decided whether or not to make snake handling an ordinance. But, if it keeps bringing the lost in through the front doors of the church, we might just have to do so."

When asked what has brought about the recent increase in snake handling, NAMB indicated that it can be traced to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's recent conference on the last 12 verses of the book of Mark. At the end of the conference, the majority of the scholars said that they believe the last 12 verses are original. This has caused many pastors and laypeople to study those 12 verses.

Mark 16:17 -18 has caused the stir. In this text, Jesus says, "And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

According to Pastor Wittner, "We had never really thought much about that last chapter of Mark . Then, after we heard about what happened at Southeastern, we decided that we needed to take another look. We certainly believe in Jesus, so we thought we had better pick up serpents. We haven't yet drunk any deadly poison, but this is scheduled for our fall revival. No volunteers have come forward, but I have faith that they will."

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