In a previous post, I mentioned that I would be open to receiving and answering questions from the web community. The following is a query from my physical and spiritual father:
Many Pastors at funerals openly say that the congregate at this persons funeral has gone to Heaven and is in the presence of Jesus. How can one really know that to be true? how does a Pastor know the HEART of the congregate? I hear this at reformed funerals as well. No one knows the heart of man -really – except God alone. Only the person themselves know of saving Grace in -their own- heart. Does scripture have anything to say about another person telling others he/she has gone to Heaven? [I realize the confessing of sin accepting Jesus as their Saviour….but the heart?]
First of all, I agree that only God can judge the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
But, in the case of a person who has died in the Lord, I believe we have every reason to speak of them as now with the Lord. In fact I believe that a pastor is well within his rights to speak this way because Paul (and the others apostles) does so as well. If we examine many of his letters he addresses professing Christians as “saints” and speaks to them and amongst them (that is to one another in the body of Christ) as believers. Clearly he rebukes them at times and, in some cases, warns them of their ways but he always talks of them as believing unless perhaps they have committed a sin worthy of excommunication and did not repent of it (see 1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
So, in my opinion, the pastor speaks not from what he infallibly knows but from what he is compelled from scripture to say. This is not to preach everyone into heaven (though we certainly shouldn’t preach them out of there either!) but rather to speak from our hearts: what we believe and have every reason to believe. In the case you mentioned above the person has God’s sign and seal (baptism placed on them) and so we know that they are received into His covenant and church (Ephesians 4:5). And they have professed faith in Christ, and so we know that they have done all that is necessary to be saved. (Romans 10:9-13). So even though we could be wrong about their confession and maybe, in their heart, they despised their baptism, but we cannot judge that and we have no right to judge that now after their death anymore than we did when they were alive.