26 May 2011

When should the funeral not be in the Church?

I am writing as I would like a bit of help to clarify when or who should be buried from the Church and who or when the funeral should take place in a funeral home.

To make things a bit easier, I would always bury a person who was a regular attendee of the Divine service from the Church. The same would hold true for that person who was at least fairly regular i.e. several times per month or at least every month.

But at what point would you say to the family of the deceased that the funeral for their loved one will not be in the Church but rather at the funeral home and then graveside? Do you make such a distinction? How do you or have you expressed that distinction? Have you written about it before hand in the monthly news letter or specifically to those who are inactive so that they will be aware that when they die, if they have remained away from the Church that they will not be buried from the Church?

As all things teach and all things are to be done in an orderly way and as all should be done such that the Gospel is not confused, I presume that there is some point of consistent non-attendance after which one is not granted a funeral from the Church.

A member of Christ's body (Baptized and a communicant) who has, for whatever reasons (provided they are not medical and not unable to come) left the body, refused the calling of the Spirit to repentance and rejoining the worshiping and communing body, are they to be denied a church funeral? What does such denial tell the worshiping congregation, the family of the deceased, the community at large?

I do not want to be legalistic nor do I wish to "kick" people our or exclude them however, I desire to know what is faithful practice regarding those who have by choice absented themselves from the means of grace and the body of believers. I do not in this presume to know hearts or to be able to definitively speak of faith or unbelief on the part of such a person.

Thank you in advance for your help, guidance and insight in this matter. I do hope that some of you brothers who have served a long time will weigh in as well :)


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Funerals in the Church are not designed to be commentary upon the life, morals, or standards of the person who has died. A Church funeral is not a reward for good membership or behavior. As all worship of the Church, it is to be a time when the people of God are called to gather around the Word of God - be it the Law in its full severity, be it the Gospel in its sweetness.

As a funeral is an opportunity to preach to your congregation - it is a churchly thing and it is fitting to have happen in the Church. If the person has a concrete tie to your congregation - do the funeral, proclaim the Word, and let the chips fall where they may.

If you feel compelled to preach against lax church attendance, use the funeral to warn the impenitent that, whether they like it or not, we all end up in Church some day, we all end up before the Lord God and there is no hiding. But it would very hard to make that point in a funeral, except in passing, and still let the Gospel predominate...

All will rise - either to judgement or damnation. You don't know which with this fellow until the last day - proclaim Christ and His victory over death... and perhaps people will appreciate it more than the one who ignores it.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Or to perhaps put it in another way....

The dead guy ain't gonna be walking into your Church anymore -- don't worry about him.

Proclaim Sin and Grace, proclaim to those there Christ, and perhaps they themselves might start showing up.

Mike Keith said...

It is true that a funeral in the church is not a reward for good membership or behaviour but it is a confession. A Christian is given Christian burial. So we accord Christian burial to those who confessed Christ. The key is not their behaviour but their confession. As far as those who have removed themselves from the Church, from receiving the gifts in Divine Service, it is more difficult. Their actions are not consistent with the Faith - but sadly neither are my actions. This is where pastoral discretion comes in. Has the person been visited and consistently and stubbornly refused? Or has the person fallen through the cracks? It is a grey area. I believe that there comes a time when we simply cannot perform any kind of ceremony for one who has rejected Christ but one cannot set hard and fast rules about this. I have not quite figured out a policy per se but I struggle with the same issue.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Thinking about this a bit more... it seems as though the simple line that could be draw is excommunication. If one has been excommunicated, or removed from the rolls of the Church (perhaps by self-exclusion)... then don't do the service.

Of course, I would say don't do the service either in the Church or in the Funeral Home, if you are going to take that tact. If the fear is that having the service in the Church might teach that not attending service is okay, doing the service at the Funeral Home, and especially the graveside would give the same validation.

Personally - I myself would be hesitant to refuse to do the funeral of anyone (provided in so doing I'm not stepping on another Pastor's authority)... but if the concern is a warning... tie it to something concrete and objective - like the status of membership. That way you can't be accused of partiality or favoritism (Pastor For *liked* Jim and buried him, but he didn't like Bosephus, and that's why he didn't bury him). If the standard is objective, its a simple either or question.

Also, if you are going to set a policy in place, I think it should be that you do not do the funeral. Don't tie it to location, have the things be tied to the service itself.

Pastor Anderson said...

If the person wasn't removed from membership in life, they should not be removed from membership in death.