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Jesus is the Only One That Matters

all about jesus

Repost from 2015. Extensively edited, rewritten, and corrected.

In a Gospel Coalition article titled Please Don’t Make My Funeral All About Me, Nancy Guthrie had this to say:

…We were an hour and fifteen minutes in to today’s funeral before anyone read from the scriptures, and further in until there was a prayer. Resurrection wasn’t mentioned until the benediction. There were too many funny stories to tell about the deceased, too many recollections, too many good things to say about the things he accomplished to speak of what Christ has accomplished on his behalf.

But then this wasn’t a funeral. It was a “Celebration of Life.” In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything. Christ and his saving benefits could not be made much of because death and its cruelties were largely ignored…

Guthrie, like many Evangelical Christians, believes that the only thing/person that matters in life is Jesus. He is the end all, the first and the last, the sum of our existence. Even in the most personal of moments, a funeral, Guthrie wants everything to be about Jesus. The person in the coffin is of no consequence. The life they lived mattered little, because without Jesus they had no life. Without Jesus, their life had no meaning or purpose.

Guthrie wallows in her depravity. She sees herself as a loathsome, vile worm, a putrid corpse of sin and defilement. That is, until Jesus regenerated her and gave her new life. From that moment forward, her life was not about her, but about Jesus. From the moment of her new birth to the moment she dies, she is a nobody. Only Jesus matters.

In Guthrie’s mind, the best funeral is one where the minister says, Joe Smith lived, knew Jesus, and died. Now let me tell you about Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the ugliness of sin and death. In other words, Guthrie wants the funeral to be like a church service, a passive event where Jesus is praised and everyone and everything else doesn’t matter.

This approach is dehumanizing and it robs the dead people of all that made them who and what they are. If they lived a full life, then they left behind countless memories and stories that certainly ought to be told. Why not celebrate the dead person’s life? Why not, one last time, remember them for what they said and did? Is this present life really that meaningless without Jesus? Is the Son of God such a Trumpian narcissist that he can’t bear to hear anyone’s name mentioned but his own?

Guthrie sees funerals as an opportunity to be reminded of our worthlessness and the awesomeness of Jesus. Any talk of the good works or the good life of the deceased is too humanistic, too worldly for her. Rather than making much of the deceased, she desires a service where the dead person is just a pretext to talk about the man of the hour: Jesus.

If the funeral service is really all about Jesus, perhaps it is proper to ask exactly what Jesus did for Guthrie’s friend whose ugly sickness slowly robbed them of everything? Did Jesus physically comfort and aid her friend?  Did he have the power to heal her friend? Did Jesus do so? Of course not — her friend died.

Suppose a friend of yours died in a car accident. Your friend could have been saved by a doctor who stopped to gawk at the accident. The doctor offered no aid and made no attempt to save your friend from death. He had to hurry home to help his wife find her car keys. Everyone in your town knows the doctor could have saved your friend’s life, yet he did nothing. Does anyone think that the doctor should be the guest of honor at your friend’s funeral? Of course not. How is this any different from praising a deity who sat idly by while Guthrie’s friend suffered and died? This deity had “all power” yet did nothing.

Guthrie betrays the fact that she is really just like us unwashed, uncircumcised, celebration-of-life, Philistines of the world when she writes “In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything.” Robbed her friend of everything? Wait a minute, I thought JESUS was E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G? Isn’t everything else about their life, even their suffering, just the minutia of life? Why bother to even mention the deceased? Are they not just a prop used to preach the gospel to those who came to the service thinking they were attending so-and-so’s celebration of life?

I was once like Guthrie. I saw funerals as an opportunity to preach the gospel, to witness to people who would not likely darken the doors of the church I pastored. While I did spend some time reflecting on the life of the deceased — that is if they were a Christian — my main focus was on preaching the gospel to the sinners seated before me. In one church, a dear, close friend of mine, a devoted follower of Jesus, died at the age of 40. His funeral was held at the church and for 40 minutes I hammered his Catholic and Methodist family with the Calvinistic gospel. I even told them that the deceased had specifically asked me to preach at his funeral, knowing that it likely would be the last time they would ever hear the gospel.

What did I accomplish? Nothing. I thoroughly offended my friend’s family, and from that day forward I was, to many of them, Pastor Son-of-a-bitch. In Guthrie’s eyes, I did the right thing. I exalted Jesus. I made the funeral about sin, death, and resurrection; about Jesus. But in the eyes of my friend’s family, I made their loved one’s life of little to no importance. The life their brother/uncle/father/friend lived, his good works, his commitment to his family and his job, none of these things really mattered. According to the Bible, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” Any good this man did was because of Jesus, and any bad he did was due to his sinful, carnal nature.

Simply put, Jesus ALWAYS gets top billing.  This is why I have, for the most part, stopped going to Evangelical funerals. Since the deceased is of no consequence, why should I subject myself to the prattle of a preacher as he tries to use guilt (sin) and fear (death) to coerce people, at a time when they are emotionally vulnerable, to become a Christian?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Indeed. There was entirely too much Jesus at my mother’s funeral, even though it was Catholic. I guess that priest had an evangelical bent. I wanted the funeral to be about my mother, but didn’t know how to make that happen… then.

    When Dad died, I was more prepared. Because Dad hadn’t specified an officiant of any particular religion, I had the funeral home pastor run the service, and I suspect if I wanted scantily-clad women handing out jelly beans to honor my dad, he would have been cool with it. He talked me into giving the eulogy, so I could be sure the right things were said and my dad was remembered properly. I left the generic heaven-babbling to him, and he handled it graciously. (Funerals are for the living, and Husband and I were the only non-Christians there, so heaven-babble was necessary.) The pastor prayed something uplifting in Jesus’ name, the service was over, and we all trooped over to the mausoleum for one last prayer, before they tucked the casket into the vault. But the important thing was, Dad was properly remembered with stories and highlights of his life.

    Mama’s funeral was the first week of January, 2003. I’m STILL pissed at the priest.

    • Avatar
      Karen the rock whisperer

      UPDATE: I have finally given up some, but not all, of my anger at the way my mother’s funeral went down. However, I have stopped blaming myself for not somehow have anticipated the situation.

      A year ago, my dad-in-law passed away suddenly. Mom-in-law chose to honor him in a brief ceremony held at the military cemetery where his ashes were interred. My in-laws’ versions of Christianity were established in Evangelical traditions, but Dad stopped attending church early in their marriage and Mom stopped attending in the 1970s, so neither experienced the modern Evangelical movement. (Dad was usually away at sea, and Mom found that church environments became too toxic.) The cemetery schedules 30-minute services in their little pavilions, and does a brisk business, so there was a hard time limit. The pastor who held the service for Dad made it about Dad, with the obligatory declarations about Jesus’ saving power and Dad’s destination being heaven, but there was no preaching. The service finished with the ritual folding of the US flag by a couple of young servicemembers and its presentation to Mom, an appropriate way to honor a veteran. Then we gathered back in Mom’s living room to eat a light meal and remember Dad in casual conversation.

      I like quick, to-the-point funeral ceremonies, followed by easy good food and lots of just hanging out and sharing good memories. I hope someone does that for me.

      • Avatar

        That sounds pretty good, Karen. Both of my parents funerals were lovely and tasteful. The same funeral home handled them and the funerals were about my parents. Their may have been mention of God, I guess there was, but it was a very uplifting type of thing, not a beat people over the head with Jesus thing. I’m still aggravated that my charismatic nephew’s funeral had a “you’re going to Hell” preacher. But the rest of the funeral was done lovingly, at least.

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    My dad was a funeral director and when I was growing up at home, after I was 15 or so, I was a helper at a lot of funerals. I saw a variety of Christian denominations in action, which did help contribute to my falling away. However, my reason for noting it was that once the service started my dad and I would grab a sandwich and coffee and then wait for the service to get over. The ones that felt like they went over best were the ones that the pastor talked the most about the deceased and talked like the actually knew the person, rather than ones like Ms. Guthrie and the denizens of my local Christian radio want.

    I recently went to a memorial for a humanist acquaintance and it was a was a wonderful remembrance for him.


  3. Avatar

    Hi Bruce,

    I recently spoke at a Celebration of Life for a dear friend. There were five of us women who got up and told stories about Susan, who had led a very interesting and fulfilling life. She was a social worker, had been in South Africa for years, and was one of the most serene people I’ve ever known – when I think of ‘good’ people, she tops the list. It was easy to talk about her, and we were honoured to do so. Since it was a United Church service, the minister (another woman) spent very little time on any ‘gospel’ message. It was a lovely service and all about Susan, as every end-of-life service ought to be.
    I’ve been to services where there’s been a fire-and-brimstone message delivered and have come away insulted and smarting. To me, those services are all about the pastor delivering the message (both in recent memory were led by men) — and, in my opinion, NOT what people go to services to hear. I’d much rather hear about a person’s life – after all, we only get ONE – than a speculative, fairy tale afterlife. Most people I know feel the same way.

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    Another heartfelt, honest portrayal. Thank-you, Bruce. Your words are a balm to my heart.
    My dad used to use funerals for preaching first but as he got older, he backed off some. He no longer felt it necessary to tell people about eternal Hellfire and their lost chance to miss that…. He was watching sports on Sunday by then and so was influenced by Satan. Goodness knows the souls he might have saved had he maintained his more-of-Jesus, less-of-me! stance and not fallen into the iniquity of Lord’s Day sports.
    My uncle never strayed, eventually left his work to preach on the streets and not even bother with self-care, praise Jesus! He was on lithium after that, for the rest of his sad life.

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    So much to say on this topic. I think I will have to write it up for my blog sometime.

    But Eric’s mom died in 1984. The old gummer she was married to at the time had a specific pastor in mind to do the funeral, but he was unavailable. So some asswipe stepped up. He told me on the phone that he would ‘give an invitation’ at the funeral. And I specifically told him that the family did not want that.

    He got up at the funeral and began preaching. Had nothing much to say about my mother in law, although he started by knocking on the top of her casket and saying, “Knock knock… get up, Judy!!” He then turned to us and said, “Don’t you wish you could just wake her up like that? Well, when Jesus comes again, she will wake up!!” Then he started talking. He talked and talked. And talked. People were walking away from the gravesite service, getting in their cars and leaving and still he droned on. Eric wanted to tell him to shut up. I wasn’t sure what to do. (Hey, we were really young…) Finally, Eric’s grandma got up and told the guy to stop. And two big burly guys from the funeral home had to escort him away, still talking. Yeah, evangelizing at funerals. Not good.

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    Wow. It sounds like this lady resented all the time they spent speaking of the person’s actual life and personality. That is warped.

    This Christianity taking over happened at my father’s funeral and my mother’s funeral. I feel bad now, thinking back, my sister or me or my oldest daughter-who was extremely close to my mother-one of us or more should have gotten up there to speak about her. I really don’t think that possibility was mentioned even. Maybe it was. I doubt I would have done it, being very shy. But I think I should have.

    Just preaching the gospel or implying the person was a saint is so different from the reality of the unique person.

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    My father-in-law is an evangelical minister. At his mother’s funeral, he spoke about himself, and the gospel.

    When he did speak of his mother, he covered only that portion of her life from her “being saved” until her death. Because she was saved late in life, much of her life was not mentioned.
    She was actually a good artist, but since that has nothing to do with the salvation narrative, no mention was made of it.

    He also officiated at the funeral of my wife’s grade school teacher. At one point, he made all attendees stand and proclaim something Jesus-related.

    A big problem I have with Christianity is the verse “It’s no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me”. That verse has real consequences, especially at a funeral where the deceased can’t speak for themselves.

  8. Avatar
    Bob Felton

    “Guthrie wallows in her depravity. She sees herself as a loathsome, vile worm, a putrid corpse of sin and defilement. That is, until Jesus regenerated her and gave her new life. From that moment forward, her life was not about her, but about Jesus. From the moment of her new birth to the moment she dies, she is a nobody. Only Jesus matters.”

    And the “good news” is this: You can avoid the eternity of suffering you deserve by joining the preacher’s club.

    No matter how you spin it, shade it, lie about it, Christianity is at bottom a cult of self-abasement. Bah.

    I read Bertrand Russell’s lecture “Why I Am Not a Christian” ( when I was a teenager, and 50-years later I still think the last paragraph is one of the best things I’ve ever read.

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    Bruce, thank you.
    Your post and these comments are touching. Been to way too many funerals where preachers evangelize and give a damn alter call. And for what? After the preacher did that at my mother-in-law’s funeral, my father-in-law said he wanted “no such a thing” at his. And we honored his request. We talked about him. We celebrated him. And you know what? It was lovely.
    Truth be told, I have tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat from the pain that still sears because of that type of funeral. I go to honor my loved one, yet leave more sorrowful and angry.
    Thank you.

  10. Avatar
    dale m

    When my uncle was laid to rest (the last of his generation), my younger brother was asked for a eulogy. He spoke. It was good. I too had lots to say. Instead, the minister jumped up, cut off all further eulogies and commenced to talk about Jesus and how he was welcoming my uncle into his arms. That was the end. My uncle was an avowed atheist with a spectacular military background. That was supposed to be my eulogy to him. I sat there thinking WTF ?!? After, I approached the minister and said sarcastically “nice speech about Jesus”. His response? Big grin of self satisfaction “Yes! I thought so too!” I turned and walked away.

    I’ve said this a 100 million times. We need a place of our own instead of disappearing forever lost in the catacombs of religious graveyards.

    It was as if my uncle were Jewish and we buried him in a graveyard dedicated to followers of Naziism so that his anti-Naziism would never be heard or seen. Born in a Nazi country, you get buried as a Nazi. Born in a Christian country, U get buried as a Christian.

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    I’ve been to so many funerals that were nothing but church services with a dead body in the room. Thank Diana, none of my living relatives want this anymore. The best funeral I went to was my cousin’s. It was in a hall, and a sign out side said “There will be no prayers, hymns, or preaching at this event. Anyone doing so out loud will be told to leave the premises.” It was fun watching how some people were literaly biting their tongues and sitting on their hands to comply. I admire how, despite being surrounded by religious fanatics, he refused to go out as a hypocrite.

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Bruce Gerencser