Feeding on Snakes, drinking petrol, eating grass and the like

WE appreciate the freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of worship. Worship, like morality, cannot and should not be legislated unless we want to promote a one-religion state.

In the same breath, recent developments in Christendom have left many people wondering whether these were indeed the last days on earth. I want to focus on the activities of the self-styled prophets found within the independent churches that seem to follow the Charismatics tradition but clearly have a much sinister agenda.

The Bible talks of faith that moves mountains and turns water into wine. Could these Biblical manifestations of faith and power be equated to recent events where a pastor would make his flock drink petrol while another one made his congregants eat snakes?

Such acts by these so-called prophets show an abuse at multiple levels. It is an abuse of the mandate of the Bible, faith, clerical privilege and sacredness of the church. This abusive behaviour preys on the simplicity of the church goers found in these gatherings.

There are many reasons for the gullibility of church members to these tricks. One of the main reasons is that there is less interest in the teaching ministry of the church. This has been exchanged with motivational and inspirational talks.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The argument is not whether motivation is bad; the point is that the church needs to resuscitate the teaching gift. People in these congregations lack the knowledge of the Bible because there is less emphasis on the teaching gift. This lack of knowledge is dangerous, very dangerous.

The other reason for this gullibility is that there is a lack of discernment. The Bible speaks of the gift of discernment as the ability to distinguish truth from error, false teaching from sound Biblical teaching, demonic activity from satanic and devilish activity and it distinguishes true prophets from foxes in sheep’s clothing.
Where is discernment if people are led astray in broad daylight? There is nowhere in the New Testament where prophets should have a free reign without the people who have the gift of discernment bringing them to order. In fact the Bible encourages that let one prophet speak and another judge him.

The recent developments are not only a South African phenomenon. The Bible tells us how the children of Israel worshipped the golden calf. On finding that out, Moses crushed the gold into powder and made them drink it. He did not purport it to be something else. He performed the act not as a miracle but as a judgment upon the backslidden people (Exodus 32:20).When the people backslid and started to worship the bronze serpent that Moses had commissioned, King Hezekiah ground it to powder (2 Kings 18:4). He did not make the people drink it. Again, it was a judgment of both the idol and the people. A judgment of the idol because what kind of a god can be destroyed by its worshipper!Nebuchadnezzar is another example (Daniel 4). As a form of judgement, God made Nebuchadnezzar eat grass like an ox for seven years. Again, that was a form of judgement. No magical or miraculous power was ascribed to that act.

In our contemporary culture, we know of snake handling Pentecostals in America. Part of their worship service is to handle poisonous snakes during the service. To them this is a sign of the fulfilment of the promise of power. They do not eat the snakes; they misinterpret Mark 16:18.

The saddest incident of them all was Jim Jones. He was a Pentecostal preacher in America who made his congregation to drink poison instead of wine during Holy Communion. Needless to say, all that had drank the poison died. As for Jim himself, he committed suicide, later to be found that he had used that plot to avoid his debtors and to assert his prowess over people. The incident took place on the 18th of November of 1978 in what thereafter was dubbed the Jonestown Massacre. It registered a death toll of 918 people, becoming the most deadly single non-natural disaster in the history of the USA until September 11, 2001.

Have you also considered the elements that are used by these abusive “prophets”? They use water, oil, blankets, snakes, petrol, anything. Water was used in the Old Testament as a symbolism for cleansing. People were not made to drink it and it was not for commercial purposes. In contemporary culture, some of us have seen and heard of incidents where people bought ordinary bottled water for thousands and thousands of Rand in order to get their blessing, breakthroughs or healing! Who ever thought that bottled water could be such a money spinner?!

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament show oil being used in certain kinds of situations. Jesus and the apostles used oil when praying for the sick. Like water, today oil sold in the name of anointing oil is a money-maker. Some even bring it from Israel having bought it from shops or manufacturers which are far from being Christian — just because the oil is said to be from Israel. What about God’s warning against its abuse? See Exodus 30:22-38.

The commercialisation of the Gospel has become the judgment of our times. The word “Gospel” means good news. How is it good news if one has to fork out thousands of Rands to buy a blanket under the dguise of it being a blessed one? Now, to make people drink petrol and eat snakes in the name of Christ boggles my mind. How can anyone do that to their loved ones or to people that love God or to people that love you?

In many religions snakes have never had a positive mystical or mythical interpretation. We would find snakes celebrated in other religions of China, Egypt, India and a few other countries. In most countries and religions, the symbol of a snake has always been a negative omen. The Bible is no exception. The snake itself is a creation of God and all things He created are good and beautiful. It is what the snake represents that has always been negative in the Judeo-Christian traditions.

From a creation perspective, the pastor who makes his congregants eat a live snake would have already failed in his responsibility of taking care of the earth and all that is in it. Taking care of the earth was Adam’s seminal responsibility and still remains our duty today.

In its symbolic form, the snake can never and will never be hermeneutically regarded as Christian food, let alone chocolate. Making people eat a snake whether that snake is dead or living is pure witchcraft regardless of where it is practised, be it in the church or in some hidden corner elsewhere.

Granted, snakes are eaten as food in other cultures with no religious attachment to the practice. But to make it a Christian rite is devilish and foreign to Christian thought and praxis. We have witnessed a growth of syncretistic tendencies. Taking a non-Christian practise and baptising it with verses and forcing it down the throats of believers does not make it Christian.

These days a person who practises a non-Christian religion can become a “Christian” preacher. All what is needed is a microphone, a voice, a good command of the English language and the right kind of clothes. Simony has come to town. Simony is so named after Simon the sorcerer who when he had seen Peter and John praying for the people, offered them money so that he too could have similar powers. When he was cursed for that, he could not even pray for himself but asked the messengers of God to pray for him. This incident is recorded in Acts 8:9-25.

In the history of the church, people who sell and buy such gifts are said to be practising simony. They have illegitimate authority. They want the power but not the intimacy with God and with His Word, the Bible.

What needs to be done by the church? In every city, God has placed spiritual leaders who are astute to His Word and His ways. Such leaders should provide leadership. They should correct, rebuke and protect the flock of Christ. This can be done by speaking with the erroneous leaders, exposing their tactics and teaching the church.

The church should not stifle the true gift of prophecy. If the church is not prophesying, people will not know what true prophets look like and how true prophecy sounds like. The people will go with what they know. Most of these zealous false prophets have not been mentored or fathered. The church should revitalise the dying art of teaching and of discipleship.

The church should work with law-enforcing organs of the state like the SPCA and the police to help expose such acts of darkness which border with criminal activity. Does government have a role? A resounding yes! Do we have to wait until we have another Jim Jones incident in our beloved nation? I guess not.

Dr. L Manaka is a Practical Theologian, Church Sociologist and Senior Pastor and Founder of Victory Tabernacle. He resides in White River. Visitwww.propheticacceleration.com and www.victorytab.org.za.