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I made a decision very early in my ministry to not try to preach anyone into Heaven for the sake of the family. I saw many preachers do this, and it made me cringe each time to hear them talk about a drunken adulterer being such a good man who was enjoying Heaven. I thought of all the other lost people sitting out in the audience getting a false sense of security, and I saw the eternal damage this kind of preaching does. I understand that they're trying to comfort the family, but you can preach comfort without trying to preach the fella into Heaven.

I always tell people that I preach to the living at funerals. The dead have already preached their eulogy by the way they lived their life.

Thus, I preach a gospel centered message while teaching some things about death, and I preach about finding comfort in Jesus.

I'm glad that you brought this topic up. I hope that many Pastors will read it.


peter lumpkins


Thanks, David. Dr. Harris has a mastery of pastoral experience and I appreciate his thoroughly dealing with it. I also appreciate your candid approach and hope young pastors may glean from it.

Grace today. With that, I am...



This was a good essay, and I appreciate you for pointing it out. I agree with what Mr. Harris said, and can say, like David, that I have been in that situation. There are some issues that come to mind, that we have to address, I think. Like, if we really believe in the doctrine of security of the believer, we have to believe that if Judy Garland or the DC Madam had ever experienced Christ, even as a child, they were indeed ushered into Heaven upon their death. Granted, the fruit they bore did not reflect that of a true believer, however, that is not up to us to judge, as Mr. Harris so rightly pointed out. I think it is good to give hope to the family that if there was a time, years ago, when the grace broke through, their loved one could be in Heaven, and by the time we know for sure, we will be there anyway.
I always loved the funeral sermon preached by the great Vernon Johns, who had refused to preach the funeral of a young delinquent son of deacon, because the guy never darkened the door of the church. He was forced to do so by the deacon body, so he preached the following sermon (quoted from a not so good memory): "Here lies _______. He lived like a fool. He died like a fool. Undertaker, collect the body."
I wish I could believe in universalism. I wish everybody gets in. When I read that God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, I'd like to believe that it means everyone. When the Bible says that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, I wish that meant that everyone makes it. But I just can't reconcile it with the whole of Scripture.



Though I believe strongly in the security of the believer, I also believe that the life one lives and the fruit one produces shows what kind of tree someone proves to be.

Christ spoke about false prophets in Matthew 7:15-20. Verse 17 ESV says, "So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit."

James 2:14 ESV says "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?" And 2:26 says, "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead."

There has to be something wrong with theology that says walk the aisle, say a prayer, live like the devil but die a saint. We're only fooling ourselves. God gives us no reason to believe in false hope or false warnings of condemnation, so we must remain very sober minded.


If a gospel sermon preached at the funeral of a non christian is preached with love, genuine compassion, pathos, some humour and gentleness I have found that non christians are responsive and listen well.
I will also speak of the humorous events of the person's life and his love for his family (if he did) and his friends, for these are true memories that are valuable to the family and it demonstrates that I care for their family by doing so.
I have done this about 400 times in the last 4 years.

Ron P.


In high school, my pastor shared about this same thing. This was about 25 years ago, but this is what I remember: He preached at the funeral of a man who continually rejected Christ even on his death bed. The Pastor shared the gospel at the service and did not paint a picture that he was now in heaven. He too was preaching to the grieving family. He tried to carefully console the family without giving them false hope. The teenage daughter of the man who died came up to him after the graveside service and directly asked the pastor if her Daddy was in heaven. He shared with us that he believed that a pastor needs to be honest, but that he also needed to be kind. He told her that he did not know, but that God knew. He then turned the conversation back to the gospel and the need for everyone to repent and believe in Christ in order to be saved and that without Christ, one can not be saved.

I have thought often about that incident. I think my pastor compassionately walked that very thin and difficult line of being truthful, yet being kind. He never gave false hope, yet he did not directly tell her (at least not that day) that her Dad rejected Christ even on his death bed.

One other thing about this topic... I worked in a funeral home for two years after high school as an Licensed Apprentice Funeral Director and Embalmer. For too many services I heard false teaching and false hope given to families countless times. Even evangelical pastors would preach about how wonderful someone was and that they were now enjoying rest in the arms of God (or something similar). What I found interesting is that with the exception of one pastor of a Chapel there in town, only Southern Baptist Pastors regularly and clearly shared the gospel at each funeral they preached. Most (non-liturgical) pastors would share about the persons life, read from Psalm 23 and John 14 but no gospel. Liturgical pastors (Catholic, Episcopal etc.) would make me sick with their spurious gospel and rituals that would give the families a false sense of hope.

Thanks for sharing this. It is great reminder that we need to be faithful to the Scriptures even in a time of grief.

Ron P.

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