|Vol. 16 No. 12 December 2014||
Are Funerals Biblically Permissible?
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Good evening Sir, I have an important question that has been bordering (sic) me and the question is should Christians observe memorial service after the death of someone? Thanks and God bless you. ~ Andrew Alozie
The Bible does not require or provide instructions to regulate a funeral or a memorial service for a deceased person. However, there is nothing innately wrong or against Scripture in having a funeral or a memorial for the deceased. Lamenting and by implication a memorial service or funeral was prohibited, though, specifically for the priestly sons of Aaron, who were destroyed by God with fire for their disobedience (Leviticus 10:1-6). That prohibition was specifically directed toward those particular individuals, and it does not extend generally to all people.
There are several references in Scripture to mourning for the dead (1 Kings 14:13). Joseph, his brothers and other family members as well as the Egyptians mourned for Jacob for over 70 days when he died, and then Jacob was buried in Canaan (Genesis 50:1-13). In later years after the establishment of the Jewish kingdom, “Then David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son” (2 Samuel 1:17-18). David lamented for Abner also (2 Samuel 3:33-35).
Much later at the end of Jewish rule, God sent a message to King Zedekiah through the prophet Jeremiah that the king would die in peace and afterward have his funeral or memorial service. “You shall die in peace; as in the ceremonies of your fathers, the former kings who were before you, so they shall burn incense for you and lament for you, saying, ‘Alas, lord!’ For I have pronounced the word, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 34:5 NKJV). This amounts to God’s approval of the human custom and cultural practice of a funeral or a memorial service for the dead. In the New Testament after the establishment of the church, we find what amounts to a funeral or a memorial service for a deceased Christian. “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him” (Acts 8:2).
Whether one has or observes a funeral or a memorial service depends on the personal preferences or the cultural norms of the individuals involved. The Bible notes numerous instances of funerals or memorial services. In at least one instance regarding Zedekiah, the Lord foretold through the prophet Jeremiah of the funeral or memorial service that would follow his death. This amounts to the implicit approval by God of a funeral or a memorial service, and except for the rebellious priests, Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-6), the Bible notes the human custom of observing funerals or memorial services without any objection from God. So, yes, Christians can observe funerals or memorial services for the deceased.
I would offer the caution, however, that as Christians we do not compromise any biblical doctrine in the course of observing funerals or memorial services. For instance, many funerals or memorial services will be conducted by either denominational people or religionists of world religions (e.g., Hindu, Buddha, etc.) in which they may say and do things inconsistent with true Christianity. We may be able to be present for the occasion without participating in unchristian activities. If that is not possible, we would do better to mourn from a distance rather than to risk bringing a reproach upon Jesus Christ and His church.
Why Did the Sabbath Change?
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Someone inquired, “Why did the Sabbath change?” The Sabbath has not changed. What the one posing the question probably means is, “Why has the day of worship changed from the seventh day or Sabbath under Judaism to the first day of the week under Christianity?” The first day of worship under Christianity is not called the Sabbath in the Scriptures.
Nothing taught in the Old Testament is applicable under Christianity unless it is taught in the New Testament. The New Testament has replaced the Old Testament (Romans 7:6-7; Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14). New Testament Scriptures note persons, particularly Jews, observing Sabbath day worship, but the New Testament does not teach Christians to observe the Sabbath, which was the seventh day of the week. Instead, the New Testament teaches Christians to assemble for congregational worship on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
The Old Testament had a purpose, which was to prepare mankind for the coming of Christ and the Gospel or the New Testament system of faith. “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made…” (Galatians 3:19 NKJV). “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:23-25). Yet, the Old Testament has a purpose today, which is to serve as the foundation on which the New Testament stands – providing knowledge and points of reference for New Testament passages so we can understand them better. “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4-5).
The significance of the first day of the week in Christianity doubtless corresponds to the several events relative to Christianity that occurred on that day of the week. Jesus Christ resurrected from the grave on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:9). One of the resurrection appearances of Christ to His apostles was specifically noted to be on the first day of the week (John 20:19). The church also began on the first day of the week – on Pentecost, which was always the first day of the week (Acts 2). Subsequently, the Lord’s church assembled weekly upon the first day of the week for congregational worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
Notice what Vine’s says of the word “Sabbath.” “The idea is not that of relaxation or refreshment, but cessation from activity.” A related word in the Greek is translated as “rest” in Hebrews 4:9. “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). Therefore, using a different Greek word, not related to “Sabbath,” Revelation 14:13 reinforces the message of Hebrews 4:9. “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them’” (Revelation 14:13). The closest to what could be called a Christian Sabbath is not the first day of the week, but rather, heaven someday. The message of Hebrews 4:9 and Revelation 14:13 appears uniformly in both testaments of the Bible. “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The activities in which we humans engage are restricted to our earthly existence. For Christians, though, heaven will be a pleasant release from our earthly works.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. CD-ROM. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985.
Are All Good People Going to Heaven?
Louis Rushmore, Editor
“Are all good people going to heaven?” someone inquires. Admittedly, there are many good, moral people in the world with whom we come in contact in our neighborhoods, at work or at school. So, this is a question that numerous thoughtful souls may ponder.
However, before one can accurately answer this question, we must define “good people” in relationship to the heavenly hereafter. Man’s definition of “good” is different from what God through the Bible defines as “good” relative to one’s entrance into heaven. Since man’s determination of what is “good” does not affect one’s entrance into heaven, it behooves us to do two things: (1) learn from the Bible – God’s Word, especially from the New Testament or Gospel (under which mankind today lives), what God considers “good” with respect to going to heaven; (2) apply that biblical information to oneself before it is too late.
By anyone’s personal standard for defining “good,” certainly Cornelius was a “good” person. “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:1-2 NKJV; cf. verse 22). Yet, this “good” man was still in need of salvation. Therefore, God caused the apostle Peter to be sent to Cornelius to convey to him the saving message of the Gospel. “And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved’” (Acts 11:13-15).
We learn from this that simply being a “good” person does not enable one to go to heaven. The reason that Jesus Christ came to this earth was because all of mankind have committed sins. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
If Jesus Christ had not come and made of Himself a sacrifice for humanity’s sins, even “good people” would be lost. However, despite all Christ did for mankind, even “good people” who do not obey the Gospel of Christ, will remain lost. “And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; cf. 1 Peter 4:17).
Jesus Christ is the Author of salvation to all them that obey Him. “And having been perfected, He [Jesus Christ] became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). Obedience leads to righteousness (Romans 6:16). Summarized, obeying Christ whereby one’s sins are removed was briefly stated in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…” Following baptism (Acts 2:41), Jesus adds the saved to the church (Acts 2:47). These are those who if they remain faithful until death, even if faithfulness were to cause one’s untimely death, will attain a crown of life or heaven. “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). The “crown of life” refers to the heavenly reward.
Only “righteousness,” which is being right with God on His terms, can enter heaven (2 Peter 3:13). “But there shall by no means enter it [heaven] anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 21:27).
It is not enough to be a “good” person by mere human standards in order to go to heaven (Titus 3:5). Our Lord indicated that the majority of souls (Matthew 7:13-14) will be lost eternally, and even some will suppose as they come before the Judgment Seat of Christ that they will enter heaven, and yet they will be sadly and eternally disappointed (Matthew 7:21-23).
Mankind often substitutes humanly devised righteousness for the righteousness of God. “For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3).
Just being a morally “good” person will not permit one to enter heaven someday, though those who will be allowed by God into heaven must be morally “good” people (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21). One must attain the forgiveness of sins to become a Christian – by hearing God’s Word to produce biblical faith (Romans 10:17), by believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, Christ and Son of God or Deity (John 8:24), by repenting of past sins (Luke 13:3), by being willing to acknowledge before others one’s confidence in Christ (Matthew 10:32; Romans 10:9-10) and by being baptized (immersed, Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12) for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16) to have his or her conscience cleansed and to be saved from past sins (1 Peter 3:21; Romans 3:25). Those who have become Christians already can remove sins that creep into their lives through penitence and prayer (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9). Sins of which Christians are unaware in their lives are expunged by the blood of Jesus Christ as they endeavor to walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7).