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Discussion in 'Pastoral Ministries' started by Gina B, Jul 21, 2004.
to saved people at the funeral of an unbeliever?
We can never know the final state of an unbeliever. My own father, an unbeliever for nearly all of his life, gave his heart fo Christ on his deathbed. His wife (also an unbeliever) was unaware of this, since he gave his testimony to his sister (his sister and wife were not on speaking terms). This was not known about until after his funeral. It would have been presumptuous, not to mention theologically incorrect, for the pastor to announce at the funeral that he was in Hell.
At any funeral of an unebeliever, I say that I am not the judge of his eternal destiny - that's between him and God. I then preach the gospel, mentioning that death always reminds us of the brevity of life and death will come to us all so we must be prepared ourselves.
I just had a funeral 2 weeks ago for a man who was an unbeliever - just a selfish heathen - I didn't know him, but vaguely know some relatives and they called me - he had never been in church in his life and had no time for God, etc. After the service, which I handled in the above manner, a woman (I had no idea who she was) came up to me and said, "Sir, I want to thank you. I can't stand it when I go to a funeral and they pretend the person who died was saved when they weren't. My dad was not a saved man." (It had been her dad's funeral) She and her brother are believers. It was very hard on them, because they know the truth about his destiny but they were glad the rest of the relatives heard the gospel.
I simply preach the text I am preaching, which is used to comfort the people who mourn and point them to Christ to heal wounds and save their souls. The person in the casket has already given their testimony.
Last night I dealt with a man who lost his son. He asked me if his son was in Heaven or Hell. I told him that there is no way that we can know for sure either way. His son had, to his knowledge, never made a profession of salvation. I do not wish to give someone false hope. On the other hand, I cannot judge the heart, only God can.
Sometimes we forget, funerals are for the living, not for the dead. Yes, I want people at my funeral to know that I am with my Lord and savior, and why I'm with my Lord, but I also want them to know that God will comfort them in their loss.
I always mention the same sort of things. We are all accountable to God. There is a time when God wil demand of us, our life. Are we ready?
In the sermon I try to mention some of the things the family said when I met with them. If I have some good personal experiences I mention those as well. But I always end with what God wants from us and the funeral is a reminder that death is certain and we can be ready should God require our life. Life is but a vapor. Then I end with the question will each of us be ready. Then I mention what to d to get ready should that time come. Often non-believers can handle the facts better than churchgoers.
The very worst funeral I was ever at was one in which the preacher preached on Lu. 16. The man was probably unconverted and had some brothers and the preacher tried to imply that he was in hell and that they should take warning.
Someone well said the funeral is not about the dead, but I disagree when they said it's about the living. Like any service of worship, the funeral is about the Lord.
During parts of the service, I always try to put in a "I Remember" portion where loved ones share memories. But my sermon is always about the Lord and the hope we have in Christ. I do not preach about men. Part of the worship is generous reading of Scripture.
Not preaching a person "into" heaven or hell is a real challenge, for sure! But much can be said from the texts in the Word that will not reflect on the person who has died.
God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
I do not hammer on the fact that the deceased unbeliever is in hell. I believe that most Christians who knew the person well already know that fact. Remember that funerals are not really for the deceased. Funerals are to be a comfort and counsel for the living. For that reason I usually highlight the life of the deceased then finish with a sermon of the cross or of the afterlife and apply the point that Jesus is the only way to heaven and that life is only worth living with Christ's forgivness.
I don't understand how someone could preach a funeral for someone who they thought went to hell.
How does your having that thought provide comfort to the family of the deceased?
If I was aked to preach a funeral, which I probably wouldn't be anyway since I'm not even ordained, there is no way I could do it for someone I had never known or let alone who I thought went to hell.
If I was at a funeral for a loved one and the "preacher" preached them to hell, I would deck the man after the service. Judgements about people's eternal destination have no business being applied to people personally, at a funeral or any other service.
We are to worship God, not condemn man.
If the person is not saved, I usually don't say anything about them at all during the message. I just preach the good news of life in Christ, a life over which death has no power.
My friend, I do not know if you are a pastor or not or if you are called to be one. Ministers are called to love their people. If you have someone in your Church that just lost a loved one that is unchurched then there is a chance they will ask you, as their pastor, to perform that service for them. You will not be able to deny this without seriously hurting that member, they will not understand your logic that their loved one is a lost person or that you never knew them. Some Churches even require you as part of your ministry to perform services for anyone in your community.
Besides that point you will find no greater ministry opportunity than at a funeral. It is at this time that all people become aware of the reality of death and can be made aware of the wages of sin and the gift of God through salvation. You will miss your greatest witness!
In short what I am saying in the previous post is that you one day may have to perform a funeral service for a member or person who is lost and in hell. It is damaging and hurtful to deny such a request from a member.
Amen, GodzThunder. I would never pass up an opportunity to do a funeral if I could at all do it. No matter how sinful the person was, people are asking you to stand up and proclaim Christ and you don't want to do it?
I did both my mother's and father's funerals. It was a blessing.
James Earl Jones played the part of a made for TV movie about a preacher. It was a true story. The preacher was a real maverick. Supposedly, the reprobate son from an influential family died. Jones tried to get out of doing the funeral. When he couldn't, he stood up at the service and said, "Here lies _________. He lived like a dog and he died like a dog. Now somebody come and take away this body." And he walked out.
I posted this question on the anniversary of my mother's death. She didn't live her life like a believer.
It's interesting to hear what pastors here would have said or felt they would have wanted to say at her funeral.
I had a good pastor friend once tell me that we never know the final thoughts of a person on their deathbed, and reminded me of the thief on the cross, who though dying accepted Christ. Would it make a difference with God if he had been past the point of being able to speak, but his thoughts were the same? Doubt it.
So, this pastor offered hope and comfort, without denying the ungodly lifestyle or the consequences it can have on a soul's eternal state.
If one of you would have the audacity to stand up and announce to a grieving family at a funeral that so and so is burning in hell, well, that's all I'm saying right now.
There were two wealthy brothers who were evil and mean men but were members of a Baptist church, who never attended. When the oldest brother died, the younger one offered the pastor of their church $1 million to do the funeral and say "this man was a saint." The pastor thought again, and said, "OK."
At the funeral, the preacher said:
"The man whose remains lie here was a scalawag, a crook, a cheat, and an adulterer. He stole widows houses for gain, and made a mockery of everything sacred. However, next to his brother, sitting in the front pew, THIS MAN WAS A SAINT."