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Breaking up Families?
Q. My family is fighting over what kind of funeral to hold for a family member. Is there some kind of way Christians should respond in these situations. What should I do or say?
Thanks for asking and I'm sorry for your loss. We've had recent deaths in our family, too, and it's painful.
Nerves on Edge
This is a common problem in families. We have seen families completely break up due to arguments over funeral matters. We have even witnessed people yelling at each other as the body is being interred (lowered into the grave).
Emotions are raw and vulnerable during funerals. All of the past feelings of success and failure relating to the deceased seem to come out in the survivors after a person has died. This can cause bitter feelings and ugly fights which can last a lifetime.
Guidance for Christians
How we should behave in circumstances like these somewhat depends on whether the survivors are believers or not. If they are Christians then Romans 14 is a good model to follow. This is a chapter that deals with honoring the feelings of weaker brothers. Here are some examples from this chapter in the easy-to-read NLT version.
Romans 14 Verses:
"Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don't argue with them about what they think is right or wrong" (14:1).
"So don't condemn each other anymore. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not put an obstacle in another Christian's path" (v. 13).
"So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up" (v. 19).
"Don't eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another Christian to stumble" (v. 21).
"But if people have doubts about whether they should eat something, they shouldn't eat it. They would be condemned for not acting in faith before God. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning" (v. 23).
Don't do things that Offend Another
Many of these verses suggest that we should try not to do or say anything that would cause another Christian to feel as if they are doing something morally wrong. If they believe drinking wine or playing cards is wrong, then don't drink wine or play cards around them. This requires maturity on the part of Christians. Sometimes we have to obey rules that we think are silly in order not to offend one another.
Examples - Catholics vs. Protestants
An example is a Catholic believer who wants a parent buried in a Catholic cemetery. If his siblings are Protestant this could be a problem. However, if the siblings are mature Christians they will give the Catholic sibling his desires because he worries that a Protestant burial could condemn the parent.
Evangelical Protestant believers should understand that the parent is no longer present in the dead body. (We are "software," not "hardware"). Therefore, burial rites are superficial concerns.
Burial vs. Cremation
Choice of Ministers
If one sibling wishes to cremate the body and another wants a burial, then the stronger believer should give in to the wishes of the weaker one. If one wants his church to give the memorial service and another wants his own church to do it, then the stronger Christian needs to give in to the weaker. If one Christian firmly prefers his own pastor to do the service, then the stronger brother should give in to the other.
These are just guidelines. In the case of two immature believers wanting different things, then a pastor's counsel may be of some benefit.
Secular vs. Christian
In the case of non Christians, the situation is somewhat different. For example, if there are atheists in the family who feel the deceased should be cremated without a religious service, then the Christian family member could hold a memorial service apart from the non believers.
We need to use common sense in situations like these. We have learned that there isn't much a Christian can do around non believers that won't offend atheists. Jesus advised,
…"Allow the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:59-60, NASB).
Ryrie explains that we should "let those who are spiritually dead bury those who die physically. The claims of the kingdom are paramount" (Ryrie Study Bible, pg. 1641).
Holy Bible, New Living Translation. 1996. Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale.
Ryrie Study Bible, NASB. 1996. Chicago: Moody.
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