The Handkerchief Phenomenon
Addendum to “A Whole Lot Of Wishful Thinking These Days
by Sandy Simpson, 2/5/10

There is a new phenomenon especially among some island churches where handkerchiefs are being handed around a congregation claiming that they have an anointing that can cause people to be healed and other miraculous things happen to them.

The problem with this idea is especially evident in two things: (1) that this can and is being considered by many to be Christian magic and (2) that it is being taught as being something that should be a normal part of the Christian experience.  It is taught that if you have faith you will believe in touching the handkerchief that you will be healed, freed from demons, or get a special anointing.  But faith is not proven by signs and wonders.  The Bible says:

Jude 1:20-23  But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and (1) pray in the Holy Spirit. (2) Keep yourselves in God’s love as you (3) wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (4) Be merciful to those who doubt; (5) snatch others from the fire and save them; (6) to others show mercy, mixed with fear— (7) hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
So faith is shown in these things, not believing in something that isn’t even to be a normal Christian experience but was a one time event in history where God did miracles to prove that Paul and the other Apostles were genuine and foundational to the Church.  Don’t get me wrong.  God can do miraculous things especially to help the unbeliever to believe.  I have seen this in my own experience.  But we must be careful not to pull the stories of Acts out of context and still expect the Lord to bless us.

This idea of passing handkerchiefs around seems to be taken from the following verses in Acts:

Acts 19: 11-12  God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
The problem with taking something that happened in Acts and applying it to the church today, assuming that it is to be a normal part of the Christian experience, is that this is an erroneous practice.  This is exactly what has caused cults to arise in Christianity.  God did some amazing things through Paul, but part of the reason was to confirm his Apostleship.  Many did not believe that Paul had the authority of the Lord to teach and do what he was doing.  They knew Paul had persecuted the Church and did not believe that he had really changed.  So God did many miraculous things through Paul.  One of those things is a good illustration of why we cannot take miraculous events from Acts and assume that they will be a normal part of the Church today.  There are no more foundational apostles that God is showing through signs and miracles that they are who He said they are.  You might remember the story of when Paul was shipwrecked, God saved them, and when Paul was on the shore of the isle of Malta.  He was eating with the islanders there when a snake crawled out of the brushwood he had gathered for the fire and bit him.
Acts  28:1-6 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, "This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live." But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
Now the islanders did not know the Lord so when they saw that the viper did not kill Paul, which is a deadly snake, they were amazed.  The only thing then knew was to call Paul a god, but Paul was not a god but protected by the God he served.  Now a viper is a deadly snake. John Gill Commentary says:
… a viper is a kind of serpent, which brings forth its young living, to the number of twenty, only one in a day, which come forth wrapped up in thin skins, which break on the third day, and set them at liberty; and so is reckoned among viviparous animals, from whence it seems to have its name, whereas other serpents lay eggs and hatch them. It is said {k}, that this remarkable reptile has the biggest and flattest head of all the serpent kind; its usual length is about half an ell (an ell was about the length of a man’s arm), and its thickness an inch; its snout is not unlike that of a hog; it has sixteen small immovable teeth in each jaw, besides two other large, sharp, hooked, hollow, transparent, canine teeth, situate at each side of the upper jaw, which are those that do the mischief: these are flexible in their articulation, and are ordinarily laid flat along the jaw, the animal never raising them but when it would bite The roots or bases of these teeth, or fangs, are encompassed with a vesicle or bladder, containing the quantity of a large drop of a yellow insipid salivous juice.—It has only one row of teeth, whereas all other serpents have two; its body is not at all fetid, whereas the inner parts of the bodies of other serpents are intolerable.—It creeps very slowly, and never leaps like other serpents, though it is nimble enough to bite when provoked.—Its body is of two colours, ash coloured or yellow, and the ground speckled with longish brown spots; the scales under its belly are of the colour of well polished steel. Its bite is exceeding venomous, and its poison the most dangerous. Now when this viper here is said to come out of the heat, the meaning is, that it came out from the sticks, which were laid upon the fire, being forced from thence by the heat of it: and so the Syriac version renders it, "there came out of them" (the sticks) "a viper, because of the heat of the fire"; it lay quiet among the sticks, among which, and such like things, this creature often lies; but when the fire began to heat it, it sprung out …
The reason I am reminding you of this story is that it too has been used to create a type of cultic church called “Snake Handlers”.   Here is a description of their religion.
Snake handling or serpent handling is a religious ritual in a small number of Pentecostal churches in the U.S., usually characterized as rural and Holiness. The practice began in the early 20th century in Appalachia, spreading to mostly coal mining towns. The practice plays only a small part of the church service of churches that practice snake handling. Practitioners believe serpent-handling dates to antiquity and quote the Book of Mark and the Book of Luke to support the practice: 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; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:17-18) Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:19)


George Went Hensley (1880–1955), a preacher who left the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) when the Church noticed him taking part in snake handling and set specific rules that made certain that that denomination would have nothing to do with those types of practices, is credited with creating the first holiness movement church dedicated to snake handling in the 1920s.

Note:  Holiness teaching claims that when you are born again you become completely holy and without sin.  This is a false teaching according to John.
1Jo 1:8  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
This is speaking of Christians.  This verse demolishes the arguments of holiness teachers.  Many of you do not know that not only snake handling cults but many Pentecostal denominations, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Christ's Sanctified Holy Church, Church of Christ (Holiness) U.S.A., Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), Church of God (Holiness), Church of the Nazarene, Church of God in Christ, Churches of Christ in Christian Union, Evangelical Methodist Church, Free Methodist Church, Salvation Army, Wesleyan Church, World Gospel Mission, Worldwide Faith Missions and many others are part of the holiness movement.  (

Holiness doctrine is false and dangerous, giving people a false hope. We are made holy “in Christ” not of ourselves.

2Ti 1:9  who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,
We are to live a holy life with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, but when God looks at born again Christians He does not see their holiness but that of His Son.  We will finally reach complete holiness at the resurrection.
Re 20:6  Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
Finishing up on the snake-handling cult.
Sister-churches later sprang up throughout the Appalachian region, including at the Mt. Verd Holiness Church in McMinn County — Athens, Tennessee.  Many of the later followers were brought into the belief through traveling preachers in the late 19th century, attracted by charismatic preachers who boasted great miracles and demonstrated wonders. James Miller, without hearing of Hensley's ministry, claimed he received a Revelation from God to handle serpents and baptize in the Jesus Only formula of Acts 2: 38 in the King James Bible.
"Jesus Only" is a belief of Oneness Pentecostals who are a heretical cult of Christianity.  The reason they believe in “Jesus only” is because they do not believe in the Trinity.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, snake handling had spread to Canadian soil, where a handful of Canadians embraced the Mark 16 revelation.  Another key scripture they use to verify the claim that they can handle snakes without harm is Acts 28:1-6 because Paul was bitten by a venomous viper and suffered no harm.

Snake handlers today and practices

As in the early days, worshipers are still encouraged to lay hands on the sick (cf. Faith healing), speak in tongues (cf. Glossolalia), provide testimony of miracles, and occasionally consume poisons such as strychnine.[1] Gathering mainly in homes and converted buildings, they generally adhere to strict dress codes such as uncut hair, no cosmetics and ankle-length dresses for women, and short hair and long-sleeved shirts for men. Most snake handlers preach against any use of all types of tobacco and alcohol.

As we dealt with in our study on Galatians, snake handler cults are also legalists.  This often happens when the grace of God is not enough for them because they impose laws in order to be justified with God.
Most religious snake handlers are still found in the Appalachian Mountains and other parts of the southeastern United States, especially in such states as Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Ohio. However, they are gaining steady recognition from news broadcasts, movies and books about the non-denominational movement. In 2001 there were about 40 small churches that practiced snake handling, most considered to be holiness-Pentecostals or charismatics. In 2004 the practice moved across the border and there were four snake handling congregations in the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. Most, if not all, use the King James Version of the Bible and consider other versions to be demonic or false.
So most snake-handling cults are also what is called “KVJ Only” to the point where they consider any other legitimate translation of the Bible to be demonic.
Like their predecessors, they believe in a strict and literal interpretation of the Bible. Most Church of God with Signs Following churches are non-denominational, believing that denominations are 'man made' and carry the Mark of the Beast. Worshippers often attend services several nights a week. Services, if the Holy Spirit "intervenes", can last up to five hours, and the minimum time is usually ninety minutes.


Some of the leaders in these churches have been bitten numerous times, as indicated by their distorted extremities. For example, the founder of modern snake handling in the Appalachian Mountains died from snakebite in 1955.  In 1998, snake-handling evangelist John Wayne "Punkin" Brown died after being bitten by a timber rattler at the Rock House Holiness Church in rural northeastern Alabama.  Members of his family contend that his death was likely due to a heart attack. His wife had died three years earlier after a snake bite while in Kentucky. Another follower died in 2006 at a church in Kentucky. (

When you do things we are not told to do in the Bible and/or teaching heresy God will not protect you as these who were mentioned died.  Remember the seven sons of Sceva thought they would go out and cast out demons but forgot the most important aspect … that they had to have a relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ and be obeying Him.

In conclusion, this practice is a very bad example to Christians the non-believers alike.  People tend to view this as a form of “Christian” magic.  What is the difference then between this and drinking potions prepared by an island shaman for healing or using the Chuukese “Inemes Rock” or love potions or special foods or marmars to get people to have sex with you or chanting lost Chuukese words in an ancient chant to the “gods”, etc.  The difference for Christians is that we are to petition God for healing and every other thing …  not pass around objects that we claim have God’s power.  That is a form of pantheism.

Probably one of the prime examples against taking something out of Scriptural context and turning it into a magic formula comes from the temptation of Christ by the enemy in Luke 4:8-12.

Luke 4 9-12  The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. For it is written: "‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’" {Psalm 91:11,12} Jesus answered, "It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’" {Deut. 6:16}
What we learn from this encounter is that to take Scripture out of context, as the devil did, and try to make it into a magic formula actually constitutes “putting the Lord your God to the test”.  When false teachers rip Scripture from its context and try to duplicate things that happened in the past in the Bible, they end up making it into magic, thereby testing God.  God does all kinds of miracles but when you make something that happened in the past into magic you are not only testing God but also placing yourself in danger of being deceived by the enemy.