Snake handling as a form of worship is attributed to George Hensley of Tennessee, who introduced poisonous snakes into a Pentecostal service in 1909. Ironically, he too was eventually bitten fatally during a church service in 1965. The practice is rooted in a passage from the end of the gospel of Mark (16:17-18), “And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.”
The most obvious problem here is that believers occasionally do die from these snake bites. Of course, the passages do not command believers to take up this act as a ritual. The book of Acts recounts an instance where the apostle Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and suffered no harm, but it was an incidental circumstance—Paul was not rooting through wood piles in search of serpents. So, do you think perhaps that these passages might not be telling us we should go looking for trouble? “Sufficient are the evils of the day” without intentionally creating them. Besides, how strong can someone’s faith really be if they feel the need to keep proving it to themselves week after week? I think this is more of a thrill-seeking exhilaration than a form of worship. Remember, the oldest known copies of Mark end abruptly at 16:8. Scholars speculate the original ending was lost or the author was not able to finish it for some reason. The ending containing these passages was a later addition, and is hotly contested. Maybe that’s not a good thing to base a life threatening ritual on.
I believe that the Bible message needs to be embraced as a whole while avoiding any interpretations isolated out of context. Didn’t Satan challenge Jesus with the same kind of faith-testing act? “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus rebuked him by quoting the greater truth, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” Jesus himself didn’t dare tempt God in this way. Neither did Paul. Randall and Hensley did. Maybe they had more faith.