West Virginia is the only state in the union that does not make snake-handling a crime. Back in the hollows of this state, in a small town called Jolo, there are some sincere religious people who still handle snakes. They do this because they think that Mark 16:18 tells them they should. Snake handling is another form of Russian Roulette. Just recently a man named Ray Johnson was bitten by a timber rattler and died. It has been 29 years since anyone had died as the result of handling poisonous snakes. It was a young girl, Columbia Chafin, who died.
The use of snakes comes from a misunderstanding of God's word. God did say in Mark 16:18 that the people would handle snakes. But, this was to come in the course of going everywhere preaching in the infancy of the church. One such example is found in Acts 28:1-6. Paul, a prisoner on his way to Rome was bitten accidentally by a viper while gathering firewood. Paul shakes off the deadly snake and suffers no harm. Note that Paul did not look for a snake, nor did he pick one up. Nor, is there any other example of any Christian looking for and handling snakes as a part of worship.
Faith is not some kind of formula that we can use to manipulate the power of God on our behalf. Biblical faith is a deep continuing relationship with God. True faith centers in God and He is glorified. False faith centers in the individual and puts God to the test and attempts to manipulate Him. Ray Johnson died in vain. Despite the fact that he was very sincere and devoted, he was wrong. Dead wrong.
--Arthur W. Atkinson