Catholics are often accused of supplanting the “True Gospel” with the traditions of men. This comes from a misunderstanding of the Catholic Faith. Non-Catholics do not understand the distinctions the Catholic Church makes between doctrine and tradition. Since we’re on the topic, however, let’s talk about a couple of true traditions of men.
There are Christians (usually from the Church of God) who are derogatorily referred to as “snake handlers”. These Christians absolutize one passage in the New Testament that says someone having a true faith will be bitten by a venomous snake, and they will survive. It is this declaration in Scripture that these “snake handlers” use to justify their practice. Some go further than simple justification. For some, snake handling is a true test of faith.
The problem I have with snake handling is that it breaks one of the main rules of faith in God, and it stems from a misinterpretation of Scripture. True, Scripture does say that if a man has true faith he won’t even die from a venomous snake bite. To interpret this to mean, however, that one must or should handle venomous snakes as a sign of faith is just plain wrong.
Scripture does not command us to handle snakes. Nowhere do we see this practice commended in Scripture. In fact, one must be fairly ignorant to interpret the Scripture in such a way. The author is using hyperbole. The exaggeration is meant to make a point. The point is that a true faith in God can accomplish anything-should it be the will of God. This is obvious when one reads words of Jesus when He also says that, if we have faith like a child, we can move mountains! Ever seen anyone literally move a mountain simply through their faith in God? While it isn’t impossible, it is also not how God normally operates.
To order snake handling, or to recommend it as a sort of test of true faith in God runs counter to Scripture; and it is supplanting true Christianity with a tradition of man. Remember that Jesus also said that we should not test God. That is exactly what “snake handlers” do.
Another tradition of man many non-Catholics adhere to is “faith healing”. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is often crediting people’s faith with bringing about their healing. Sometimes it is the faith of a loved one that brings about the healing. This has led some to believe that any illness, affliction, or malady can be cured by a true faith in Christ.
The people whose faith heals them in the gospels only experience that healing after openly proclaiming their belief in Christ. I would also point out that not everyone who had a true faith in Christ was healed. Jesus never set up the curing of an illness or injury as a sign of one’s faith.
It is interesting to note that all of the “faith healers” throughout history were supposed to have a true faith in Christ, yet all of them eventually die. Why is that? I thought their faith would heal them. They might respond that all men are subject to suffering and death, but this flies in the face of their teaching. A true faith is supposed to cure any issue one might have. So what’s the deal?
“Faith healers” might also argue that a healing will only occur if such is the will of God. The problem is that they say a true faith in Christ will cure anything. If that were true, then it would always be the will of God to heal anyone with faith in Him.
Would anyone question the faith of the Apostles (with the exception of Judah Iscariot, of course)? It is beyond all doubt that their faith in Christ was true. Yet, all of them are dead. Though 10 of the original 12 died martyrs’ deaths, St. John died of old age. I guess we should question his faith, right?
The fact is that some people are healed by their faith in Jesus Christ, but it is only if such is the will of God. So far, no one has found a way to determine in advance if this will be the case in any particular situation, outside of God’s revelation. Jesus also never guarantees that everyone with a true faith in Him will be healed.
These are just two examples of true traditions of men. Some non-Catholics (primarily from Fundamentalist Protestant sects) consider snake handling and faith healing as essential to Christianity. They say that such are clear signs of a true faith in Jesus Christ. This is, as I have shown, a misreading of Scripture. Nowhere does Scripture give any indication that these are signs of true faith. In fact, Jesus says the love we show for one another is the sign of a true faith.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity