Recently, an Arlington, TX megachurch refused to perform a funeral ceremony for a military veteran who died from "an infection" because he was gay. This, even though his brother was a janitor at the church. The real problem, however, is that the church agreed to do the service before finding out that the man was gay, then changed their mind. The question is, should bible-believing churches do funeral ceremonies for the outwardly unbelieving or unrepentant?
Note how the Pastor responded:
The church’s pastor, the Rev. Gary Simons, said no one knew
Sinclair, who was not a church member, was gay until the day before the
Thursday service, when staff members putting together his video tribute
saw pictures of men "engaging in clear affection, kissing and
Simons said the church believes homosexuality is a
sin, and it would have appeared to endorse that lifestyle if the
service had been held there.
"We did decline to host the service
— not based on hatred, not based on discrimination, but based on
principle," Simons told The Associated Press. "Had we known it on the
day they first spoke about it — yes, we would have declined then. It’s
not that we didn’t love the family."
The first question that arises is, should Bible-believing churches do funeral services for non-believers? I know many who will not. If an unbeliever or their family wants a ceremony, perhaps they should go to a pastor who has the same beliefs. The pastor above makes a good point – are we being compassionate when we agree to set aside our principles, or are we compromising and not sending a message of truth? I think there are at least three approaches:
1. Grace Only
Provide such ceremonies to all who ask. This will show your compassion. It only turns people off to what you have to say if you turn them away when they ask for service.
2. Truth Only
Absolutely refuse to bury anyone who is not a believer, even if their families are believers. Sending this honest message informs people that God is not to be manipulated by our sentiments, and that when we refuse God’s laws and message, He in turn can not accept us – we are accepted on His terms, not our own.
3. Grace and Truth
Provide such services as long as participants are willing to submit their lives to biblical truths. I think that this church’s first mistake was agreeing to do a ceremony for someone they knew nothing about. The second was not looking for a better solution to the problem they got themselves into than just backing out. They did offer to pay the family for a service somewhere else, but the family refused. They could have done one more thing.
They could have performed the funeral, with the family’s understanding that they would also preach the message of salvation, including this fact:
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
And for gays who die of disease, we might need to mention this verse as well
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Of course, now matter how graciously you bring this up at a funeral, it will be offensive, but needless to say, if it is true, a funeral is the perfect time to bring up such weighty matters as our eternal salvation.
While I know people usually use funerals to fondly remember the person, and such sentiment is proper, one can attempt to honor the good in people while also discussing their shortcomings. In fact, funeral hagiographies are boring to the hilt. At my funeral, I hope that, rather than trying to make me into a saint, they acknowledge both the examples of success and failure that mark my life.
THIS APPLIES TO MARRIAGE AS WELL
In the case of a wedding, if two unbelievers (or one believing and one not) want to
be married, tell them that you will marry them if they successfully
complete your marriage prep classes, which will include the gospel and
the truth that believers should not be yolked to unbelievers. If the believer still wants to marry their unbelieving spouse (assuming that he now understands the gospel and still rejects it), I’d say you should NOT marry them, since the believer is in rebellion by marrying the unbeliever.
And of course, gay couples should be refused because, in general, the only biblical course we can offer them is to reject their dysfunction rather than marry.
You may want to require a profession of faith from one or both partners
before proceeding, and as long as that is known up front, I think that
is the right answer.
In the end, I think that believing churches should NOT perform funeral ceremonies for unbelievers unless the family is OK with preaching a biblical message, and should NOT perform marriage ceremonies unless at least one of the marriage partners is Christian. We should not expect the Pastor to present an unbiblical message that violates their beliefs, nor ask him to ignore the biblical perspective that bears on the situation.
In the case of this church (High Point Church), while I think they did make a mistake in offering their services before knowing about the life of the person, I think it is in keeping with principle to NOT perform services for unbelievers. However, rather than flat refusal, I think we should offer our services gladly with the condition that we do so biblically.