Funerals for unbelievers

Discussion in 'Preaching' started by Pergamum, Nov 11, 2007.

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  1. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Any tips? Any no-nos.

    Any stories?

    Any good experiences of your own preaching? Others?

    Any bad experiences for yourself? Others that you have witnessed that were bad?

    Where's the balance between respecting the dead, finding good things to say, and trying to preach the damned into heaven?

    What to do if not sure of quality of the person's profession?

    What to do if they were clearly an atheist and a scoundrel?

    Should you and how should you make this opportunity and evangelistic one in the the West?
  2. No Longer A Libertine

    No Longer A Libertine Puritan Board Senior

    The only redeemable aspect of a funeral is to give the gospel, the true gospel to the house in mourning, otherwise the tragedy is compounded by being a stomach churning spectacle of grief and emotionalism mixed with wishful thinking, heresy and superstition.
  3. Theoretical

    Theoretical Puritan Board Professor

  4. Wannabee

    Wannabee Obi Wan Kenobi

    You can say, "If [name] could speak to you now they would tell you..."
  5. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    No-nos -

    * Don't "preach them into heaven."
    * Don't ever promise that we will be reuinited with our "loved one" in heaven when you know that the person had no interest in Christianity or the faith.
    * Don't let the Masons take charge of the service.
    * Don't forget the date or be late.
    * Don't mispronounce the name of the deceased or their relatives (be sure before the service that you know how names are pronounced). I'm always amused when non-Californians try to pronounce Sepulveda (se pul ve da) as Sep-el-veda. But, grieving folks are not so easily amused.
    * Don't yield to the temptation to historical revisionism regarding the life of the deceased. You can't make a stinker into a saint by your rhetoric.
    * In so far as you have any input, don't let the service happen more than a week after the death. It increases the stress enormously to wait so long for the closure of a service.

    Do -
    * Remember that you are a herald of the Gospel, not a pop psychologist.
    * I always try to personalize my funeral homilies, but work very hard NOT to be maudlin or cheaply sentimental.
    * Direct people to our gracious Lord's provision for us in our grief rather than all of the "wonderful" features of the deceased (particularly if he/she was an apparent unbeliever).

    Stories -
    * Once a man was so tense because his wife had died in a foreign country and it took months to get her body back, that he got into a fight with the funeral director and almost decked me when I tried to intervene before the service.
    * Once a pagan grandson stormed up to the pulpit and pushed me out of the way and took over a service.
    * Once a widow passed by the open casket of her husband, started beating his chest with her fists and yelling at him for leaving her.
    * Once a gay son of a Christian lady brought his "life partner" to the graveside service and sat with his head on his "partner's" shoulder throughout the brief service.
    * Once I officiated at a burial for stillborn twins. All of the family and guests were African-American except me.
    * Once Hollywood actor Ben Stein attended one of my funerals for a young child. He got into a theological discussion with me after the service about the meaning of John 14.

    Frankly, I have always felt something like theological background music at weddings. You are about as important as the flowers and less so than the runner down the aisle. Funerals, on the other hand, find people hurting and in need of ministry. This is an opportunity for the hearald to speak forth the good news at a very important time in people's lives.
  6. Wannabee

    Wannabee Obi Wan Kenobi

    Story - Two brothers lived in a small town and had a terrible reputation. One day one of the brothers died suddenly. The surviving brother went to the local minister and asked him to do the eulogy, asking that he proclaim his brother to be a saint. When the minister refused, the brother told him he would donate a thousand dollars to the church. After some thought, the minister agreed. At the eulogy, the minister said "Everyone knew that ole George was a liar, a thief, and a drunk. But compared to his brother, he was a saint!"

    I know, I know. It's an old one.
  7. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    When we got to the graveside in Mexico City, they were having a funeral two slots (these are very narrow graves) down. They had a trio of Mariachi's (who offered their services to us also. So the whole crowd of us stood there for a long time with dust blowing in our eyes (there was no grass or anything and it was quite windy) while the other people finished. When I moved from one end of the grave to the other, I almost fell in because the walkway was so narrow and the ground was crumbly (these graves have a high turnover rate). As we were waiting I couldn't help noticing what looked like a thigh bone and an arm bone poking out of the ground close by.

    When the other party was done we got started. Some people from the first funeral hung around to listen. A lady fainted while I was preaching. I spoke briefly: the man's son-in-law spoke briefly, and we began to move away. Out of nowhere one of the chief mourners in the other funeral appeared and tried to give me money (he didn't say a word). I refused, and he hugged me. He went his way, and I went mine, and I've never seen him since. I pray God has mercy on him.
  8. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    As far as suggestions go, even though the two funerals I've done were, I think, for Christian people, I tried to focus on the Biblical doctrines of death and resurrection.
  9. Preach

    Preach Puritan Board Sophomore

    One of my ministerial mentors said that the presence of the minister at the funeral serves three purposes:
    1) To remember the life of the deceased
    2)To bring comfort to the family
    3) To focus on eternal things
  10. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    People rub their bodies in mud in many places here and wail and beat their hands on their heads. There is a tradition of cutting of a knuckle of the finger for women, but this is now illegal - though it still occurs in places.

    If some one did make a deathbed confession but lived a worldly life before, how should you treat this?

    If they confessed and prayed for salvation but major fruit was not seen between this confession and a short time later, when they actually did die, then how should we address this?
  11. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    How much time? Did the person commit any heinous willful sin or otherwise seem to have a general lack of interest in God before their death? Couldn't this be treated like the thief on the cross? He didn't have time to go do a short-term mission trip and thereby prove himself regenerate.
  12. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    You do agree that there would be some sort of fruit after such a confession, right?

    What if they seem a bit uninterested afterwards. Then some months pass (they are still bedbound) and then they die...

    HOw soon and how much fruit will arise out of the regenerate soul? I know that when I was saved it took many months.
  13. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    Many of my 400-500 services have been for apparent non-believers. Whenever someone offers up a death bed confession, I explain that even though Mr. X never lived like a Christian, he did profess faith before he died. I then explain what the Bible says about God's gracious offer of salvation by grace and the promises made to those who respond to his gift of new life, reminding them that the call to repent applies to them as well.

    BTW, 21 years ago (just days after I had gone through a tonsillectomy), it was my job to preach my own father's funeral service. My dad never professed faith (I had last spoken to him about Christ just weeks before his death to no avail). My text was Lamentations 3. The emphasis was on the provision of God to us in times of grief and loss, particularly the faithfulness of God to his purposes, plans, and people. I concluded by speaking as a son and imploring people to realize how difficult it is to be left uncertain about your loved one's eternal destiny. I presented the Gospel and exhorted people to repent. Doing an unbeliever's service is one of the most diffiuclt and depressing tasks a minister can ever be called upon to do. Officiating at an unbelieving parent's service is unbelievably painful.
  14. No Longer A Libertine

    No Longer A Libertine Puritan Board Senior

    Not to hijack this meaningful thread but isn't Ben Stein Jewish?
  15. JohnOwen007

    JohnOwen007 Puritan Board Sophomore

    Here are some of the things I've learned doing many non-Christian funerals:

    - Always make sure the sermon comes AFTER the eulogies.

    - Especially if you don't know the deceased, don't talk about whether they're in heaven or not. That is a hornet's nest, particularly for bereaved.

    - The best way to preach the gospel in a funeral sermon is talk about how Christ can help us deal with grief, because he has been through suffering in a way greater than we can understand. This way you don't have to refer to the deceased's eternal destination, but can talk about sin and judgment, by reference to what Christ went through.

    - The greatly bereaved don't take in much of what you say in the sermon given their emotional state. Hence it's really important to show demonstrable care and love in the contact before and after the funeral, so as to establish a connection. This connection can be later followed up. It's in the later meetings that one gets great opportunities to share the gospel.

    One of the things I've noticed about non-Christian funerals is how angry family members get with each other. More often than not, the family seems to fragment rather than unify. It's awful to watch.

  16. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    Not to hijack this meaningful thread but isn't Ben Stein Jewish?

    I'm not sure about his religious convictions. He is coming out with that movie in early 2008 blasting the PC police for discriminating against Intelligent Design. The man was the valedictorian at Yale Law School in 1970. He went to college back when an educated person was supposed to know something about the Bible.
  17. etexas

    etexas Puritan Board Doctor

    I do that whole mud thing....but JUST when I get bored.:coffee:
  18. thisistim

    thisistim Inactive User

    you must elaborate.
  19. dswatts

    dswatts Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you, DMcFadden

    ...for sharing your thoughts. You post was very helpful and insightful. Having to sit through my lost father's funeral as a very liberal, Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian priest tried to preach him into heaven was excrutiating. I can't imagine the pain of your experience.

    I agree with must elaborate of the pagan grandson storming the pulpit.


  20. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Ha, you're not the only one.
  21. etexas

    etexas Puritan Board Doctor

    LOL! I am wearing mud now! Drives the Old Lady nut when I do it indoors!;););)
  22. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Hmmm......the drying flakes don;t vacuum up very well.
  23. Kevin

    Kevin Puritan Board Doctor

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