Turn on the national and international news and you will see evidences that bad theology kills. Literally.
A Northeast couple was recently charged and convicted of homicide after the death of their infant son. It was their second child to die of a treatable medical condition. However, the parents refused medical attention on the basis of religious belief in faith healing.
As news broke of the conviction, reports also circulated that a semi-celebrity pastor was killed as a result of a snakebite. The bite occurred as part of a charismatic subculture which practices snake handling on the basis of passages like Mark 16:18 and Acts 28:3.
Both tragedies serve as a painful and profound reminder: Bad theology can be lethal.
A Misinterpretation of Scripture
These stories demonstrate the tragic results of misunderstanding and misapplying Scripture. Let them serve as a warning to Christians to think rightly in order to live rightly. In both cases, we see a mishandling of the biblical text resulting in devastating and destructive consequences.
The fact that God sometimes heals does not mean that He always will. Regardless, there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that medicine (or science in general) is opposed to divine healing. Perhaps the common grace of medicine is the very means by which God exercises the miraculous grace of healing. Bad theology presumes upon God’s grace while rejecting the very means by which He often provides it.
As for snakes, the fact that Paul survived a snakebite in no way represents a promise that we will as well. Nor does it prescribe that we should make a habit of handling them. Furthermore, the account in Mark no more commands snake handling than it does popping a couple of cyanide capsules. Bad theology universalizes a descriptive text and turns it into a prescription and/or promise.
A Profound Parable
These news stories are unique in that they represent a very visible and immediate example of a universal spiritual reality. Serpentine whispers in the garden always lead to death.
The snake handling case in particular serves as a powerful parable for our own lives. Let’s set the record straight: We all handle snakes, metaphorically speaking. We believe things that are untrue and live our lives accordingly. We all pick up serpents, carry them in our pockets and place them in our beds.
Fortunately for most of us, those serpents are small and relatively safe. Our bad theologies matter, but perhaps not with such immediate and demonstrable consequences as actual snake handling and presumptive faith healing. We reach into our theological terrarium and remove what seems a harmless pet—self-sufficiency, apathy toward the local church, the American dream or whatever it may be. We think we are safe because we hear no familiar rattling or hiss and see no hood or bared fangs.
But even small snakes can become large, and non-venomous snakes can be dangerous.
Good Theology Frees
As bad theology kills, good theology sustains and protects life. It protects and preserves us from the subtle lies of snake handling. It is not an empty, academic exercise but instead a formidable fortress to protect us from the viper’s venom and a sharpened sword to crush its head. It is a means to freedom.
…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Good theology frees us from the chains of condemnation and addiction. Good theology empowers us to overcome sin. Good theology protects us from presumption and pride. It helps us to love our spouses and discipline our kids. It teaches us to love our neighbors and pray for our enemies. How could theology be dull or dry?
Theology is not some detached discussion of doctrine; it is the careful consideration of the nature, character and work of our God. As A.W. Tozer once wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
So, what are you doing to grow in your theological understanding? What are you doing to spot the camouflaged serpent lying in wait? How are you deepening your understanding of the King and His kingdom?
The various resources that we have available on our website can aid you to think clearly about God, that you might avoid the viper and destroy death-inducing doctrine by the truth of God’s Word. Those who handle rightly the Word of Truth have no need to handle snakes in order to know the faithfulness of their Father.