I am not a leader of a church, but I oftentimes wonder how does one lead a funeral service for someone who dies without knowing Jesus Christ as Lord? Admittedly I have not been to many funerals in my lifetime, though they are appearing to come more frequently lately, but the fact is that funerals are held daily throughout the world and as such this is a pertinent question to someone just about every day.
I’ve been to the funeral where the person lived a fairly routine life, taking care of their families and other responsibilities as best they could, paying taxes and doing the average things that we as human beings do on a consistent basis. They however had no visible relationship with God through His son Jesus Christ. When this person dies, the surviving family members are oftentimes left scrambling trying to find a person and a place to officiate the funeral services – generally because the deceased did not have a regular church that they attended. Funeral homes sometimes serve this function, but then the services are led by someone who knows very little about the deceased. It is common that biblical scripture is read and perhaps a worship song or two is sung. But it does raise the question (an admittedly awkward one): what is the connection between the scripture and the life just lived or more importantly is there any significance on the lives continuing?
The biblical Book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 7: 1-2 says the following:
A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. (NIV)
The fact of the matter is that death is appointed to everyone (Hebrews 9:27), and funerals unlike most other functions in life, is a place where people are forced to examine their own mortality. If the suggestion is going to be made that the departed is living “in a better place”, then the reason why ought to be given. Is it because they were a good person? They gave consistently of themselves to charity? They were devoted to some religious belief? Whatever the case is, I can guarantee you that the audience in the funeral service wants to know.
If during the service biblical verses are read, hymnals are sung and so on, then it is extremely deceptive to suggest that the departed is “in a better place” if their life showed no evidence of living for God through Jesus Christ. If there is no one who can confirm that the departed accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord at some point during their life, then the effect of such a service is to continue deceiving most of those in attendance that they themselves can continue on unchanged in their life until their inevitable death and go to that “better place” also. You will not find any evidence of this possibility in the Bible. As such, it should not be used unless it is being used in its true Spirit and intent – to spur people to salvation through Christ alone.