CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On Our Eternal Destiny

May 15, 2008

One does not wish to speak ill of the dead, and it is not my intention here to do so. But it is my intent to speak of how one believer did speak of the dead recently. I refer to an interesting article in the Weekend Australian a few weeks back about recently deceased columnist and atheist Pamela Bone. And I refer to how one Anglican vicar conducted her funeral.

That last sentence ought to already be setting off question marks, if not alarm bells: church funeral for an atheist? According to the report, Ms Bone wrote down her desire for a church funeral ahead of time. As the article states, “‘It may seem hypocritical, after I have spent so many years of my life in journalism writing columns about the harm done by religion, to want to have a funeral in a church,’ she wrote at the start of the service booklet. ‘However, I love old hymns, religious poetry, church spires … I am a cultural Christian … the church belongs to us all’.”

The article finishes with these words: “In Bad Hair Day, her book about dying, she wrote: ‘If God does exist, I don’t approve of him’.” So she seems to have made it clear her thoughts about God, and where she stands with him.

But as I said, my main concern is with what was said at the service. This is what the article says: “Colleen O’Reilly, vicar at St George’s Anglican Church in Melbourne’s Malvern, said: ‘We are here to commit her to the God she doubted existed, but she would never let go of the question.’ She described Bone, who died last Saturday at 68, after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2004, as ‘an icon for Christian feminists as we seek to undo harm done by patriarchal distortions’.”

Now as a Biblical Christian, I must say I have a few problems with these remarks. If, as Ms Bone admits, she has always rejected God, then heaven will not be her place of final abode. That is tragic news, and it grieves the heart of God that those whom he has died for can so stubbornly and insistently dismiss him, and his provision for their eternal reconciliation with him. But that is the clear teaching of Scripture.

Yet the vicar does not seem to bemoan any of this. All she can do is extol her as a champion of women’s lib, as if that will somehow make everything OK. Sorry, but no matter how committed she may have been to feminism, the real question is, what has she done with Jesus? Has she received him as Lord and Saviour or not? That is the only final question of real significance.

I cannot imagine Jesus and the disciples suggesting that although some people have rejected God and denied the saving work of Christ, at least they were great feminists. While earthly causes are not unimportant, in the greater scheme of things, what one does with the God question, and where one spends eternity, really are the key concerns of life.

Now some might object that only God can judge one’s eternal destiny. Quite so. But that is not the end of the story. Believers are called to do all they can to help people make the right choices about where they spend eternity. While only God ultimately knows who are his, that does not for a moment take away our responsibility to do all we can to warn people about a lost eternity without Christ.

The claim that God alone knows who are his must never trump our responsibility as believers to preach the good news, to warn people of judgment to come, and to seek to win the lost for Christ. Otherwise the preaching of Jesus himself and the early disciples would be in vain. After all, they did all they could to persuade people to repent of their selfishness, to leave their sinful ways behind, to receive God’s forgiveness, and to live a new life in Christ.

While we cannot be the ultimate judge of anyone’s fate, we can proclaim forcefully and without fear that what one does with Jesus Christ in this life will seal their eternal destiny. If a person has rejected God and his only provision for eternal life – repentance and faith in Jesus Christ – then we have no right to somehow assume they are really alright, and God is somehow happy with them.

Far too many church funerals are offering false hope to people. While we can all hope that everyone makes the right decision about Christ, we cannot just glibly assume they are going straight to heaven, when all of their adult lives they denied God and rejected his only offer of salvation.

The truth is, we are not doing anyone favours by misleading them about the most important question that they face: that of their eternal destiny. The Bible makes it clear that those who reject Christ, God will reject. Jesus made this quite plain: “Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33). “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36).

“There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” (John 12:48). And Scripture is clear that we have only this lifetime to get things right: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Still, some might object that this sounds too harsh, unloving and uncompassionate. But how can a cavalier view of these truths be loving? Is it unloving and unkind to allow someone to go his or her own way, rejecting God and his offer of eternal life? Is it compassionate to stand by and allow people to choose a lost eternity without God? The most loving thing we can do is warn people about wrath to come if they will not receive the provision offered by Christ.

Ms Bone has made choices in her lifetime which she will now have to live with – forever. But the real concern is when Christian leaders offer false or fuzzy hope, especially in defiance of the clear teaching of Scripture. To imply that a person who wants nothing to do with God and the atoning death of Christ is somehow doing OK in the afterlife is neither merciful nor biblical.

Life is too short, and our eternal destinies too important, to minimise the gospel, offer false hope, and water down the clear teaching of the Bible. The good vicar may have meant well, but faithfulness to the biblical position must always be our first priority, not mere sentimentality or niceness.

www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23637523-5006785,00.html

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11 Responses to On Our Eternal Destiny

  • Dear Bill
    The real problem is the Anglican Church. If O’Reilly did not take the funeral, Pamela’s buddy’s could find another Anglican Priest who would.
    Stan Fishley

  • We seem to be back to a time pre-Martin Luther where many of those who supposedly represent Christ diminish his death and resurrection to a byline and side issue, if they mention it at all. Without it we have no faith to hold to, and without Him we have nothing to hope for.

    Let’s not single out the Anglicans. Liberalism/Progressiveness prevalent in all forms of Christianity. I know many Anglicans and Catholics who have a sounder belief in Christ, knowledge of the Word and representative walk in life than most of those whom I spent 20 years alongside in Pentecostal churches. It’s just that the position of power and pomp is still vainly attractive and gathers all sorts for all reasons. Let’s be, follow, find and support those who live for others with no thought for themselves – there are enough fine examples if one looks – and they are the ones that Jesus will know by name.

    Garth Penglase

  • Thanks Bill. You’re last paragraph summed up the issue very well. Faithfulness to the Biblical position is being faithful to God.

    Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42 and Luke 17:2 are significant. To cause any believer, particularly a little child to sin is a terrible thing. Believers have a responsibility to present the full gospel. The Anglican minister may have meant well, but there is a real danger that she will have caused much harm to any new believers listening or other people listening who were considering acknowledging Jesus as their Lord and saviour.

    Matthew Mulvaney

  • Bill,
    Solid….

    Robert Phillips

  • It is only when one is faced with the question of their own mortality, that the big question of God starts becoming real. I believe it is in our very nature to be aware of our spirituality and relationship to our creator, and aetheists like to spend their time fighting a knowledge that they know exists. It is when they are compelety (frightened) by the fullness of God’s revelation to man, that they become passionate in denying the existence of God.

    You can’t escape the reality of death.

    Teresa Binder

  • Yet it’s strangely fitting for an atheistic priestess to be eulogised by a Christian one.
    Michael Watts

  • Bill, the priestess has a Bishop. The focus should be where the BUCK stops and the BUCK stops with him.
    Stan Fishley

  • Bill,
    It’s a case of the ‘blind leading the blind – both fall into the pit’.
    Ivan Cox

  • Thanks Bill,
    You raise a fantastic point in this article. This goes to show how much people are actually concerned about life after death, despite the fact that they refuse to think about it while death is not apparent.

    The human condition leaves us quite short sighted, we tend to be more concerned with more immediate issues, such as where we’re going for dinner tonight, what we’re going to wear tomorrow, how to earn more money.

    Ignoring the main issue till its too late is risky busniess? Maybe this will serve as a warning to others who continue to ignore something as important as life after death.

    Darius Khor

  • I would say that this comes down to personal lives in the body of Christ. We can’t single out any certain denomination or kind of church. It comes down to this. Does a Christian, in this case, O’Reilly have the guts to tell it like it is and please God, or is she out to please man?

    Its situations like these that force non-believers into more of a place of complacency with living a life without God. People NEED to hear the raw word of God how it is, and how God meant it to be heard. If they get upset than it’s not our problem. Of course when we share and preach, we do it with wisdom and out of love, but we are not responsible for peoples response.. We are only responsible for doing what God has called us to do. Yes, we need to preach love and compassion and kindness, but let’s not forget about the fundamentals. When was the last time you heard a sermon about repentance, and the fact that if someone doesn’t give their life to God, they will end up in Hell?

    There are too many people living life, just cruising thinking that God is an optional extra in life, like buying a new car. Hey, if you don’t get the brakes, you are in trouble!

    We need God. Everybody needs Him. Its people like O’Reilly who are giving people the impression that they don’t.

    Chris Farace

  • Bill, you make some extremely valid points. It’s so sad to see, that someone who loved so much about the church, and thought themselves to be a ‘cultural Christian’, claim to have rejected God. What it really comes down to is the choice of accepting the gift of Jesus. It doesn’t matter how good a life you might have lived. It’s simply black and white, as much as anyone wants to disagree with it. Without accepting redemption through Jesus, life after death seems to be a fairly dismal place.
    Hannah Weichman

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