Mystery and intrigue surround the beliefs and traditions of many religions about death. The Jehovah Witnesses have such a unique perspective on death, many wonder, "Do Jehovah Witnesses have funerals?" While their beliefs may be different than yours, their funeral procedures and practices follow their traditions and customs.
Beliefs About Death and Dying
Unlike many religions, Jehovah Witnesses believe that death involves the ending of both the physical body and the spiritual soul. Most religions teach that the soul lives on after physical death. Witnesses believe that a human ceases to exist once death occurs. As such, the live Witnesses are challenged to cut all ties with the dead. While it doesn't mean to forget their ancestors, they are not to place much emphasis on things to do with the physical body. Several beliefs dictate their feelings about death. These beliefs come from the Bible.
- The resurrection of all people fuels the belief system of the Jehovah Witnesses. It is this doctrine that spurs hope.
- The Jehovah Witnesses' do not believe that hell is a place of eternal punishment. They do not believe that God would subject His people to such anguish. They regard death as a deep sleep, or a period of nothingness.
- The Jehovah Witnesses believe in heaven, though primarily they see a heaven on earth. There are 144,000 people who are chosen by God to take their place at His side and rule as priests and kings. The rest of humanity will be resurrected after Armageddon and will live forever in a paradise on earth.
Do Jehovah Witnesses Have Funerals?
Several traditions encompass the Jehovah Witnesses' funeral. All ceremonies, including funerals, are open to the public. Non-members are welcome but may be referred to as a "Non-Witness." The funeral will be a simple, humble ceremony, not bringing any attention to the dead person. Reading the following Scriptures will assist in understanding things taught and practiced during the funeral:
- Understand about how we grieve the loss of a loved one: Acts 8:2, Ecclesiastes 7:1-4
- Understand the dead are unconscious: 2 Corinthians 6:17
- Know there is hope for the dead: Acts 24:15
- The Bible advises modest dress and appearance: Proverbs 11:2
Funeral and Burial Traditions
There are several traditions that are used during the service. The ceremony itself will be brief. Several customs will mark the service.
- The funeral service normally takes place in either a funeral home or at a Kingdom Hall, their place of worship.
- There are no stipulations about whether the casket can be open or closed.
- Funerals for Jehovah Witnesses usually do not include music.
- It will be striking how few of times the deceased will be mentioned during the service. Instead, the Elder will remind those in attendance about the resurrection and how it should be affecting their lives.
- Funerals will focus on spoken words, much of which is taken directly from scriptures. The service is led by the Elder of a local church, although the message may be presented through an audio tape. Video taping or presentations normally are not permitted.
- Several prayers will be spoken throughout the service, each having a specific purpose, emphasizing a particular teaching about the resurrection.
- Jehovah Witnesses usually appear more stoic than members of other faiths. The composure reflects their belief that death is not a negative thing. While a somber service, the tone will be of hope and faithfulness.
- Following the ceremony, you may be invited to a meal prepared for the grieving. The gathering will not be a large party. Jehovah Witnesses do not drink alcohol. The meal will be a quiet and somber occasion.
- Jehovah's Witnesses are not against cremation. They understand that God will restore the dead in the same way that He restored Jesus' body after the crucifixion. The state of the person's physical remains do not matter, neither does the place of interment.
- Gifts are welcomed at funerals, but remember the foundational belief to not be ostentatious about material possessions. Flowers are allowed, but opt for a smaller, sensible arrangement. It is also accepted to bring the bereaving family a gift of food.
- It is common to use the occasion of a death as an opportunity for evangelism. Non-Witnesses may be asked to join their church at some point during the funeral service.
Proper Behavior When Attending a Jehovah Witnesses' Funeral
The actual funeral service of the Jehovah Witnesses is brief. It will probably last between 15 and 30 minutes. The funeral normally takes place within a week of the death. Proper respect is shown by the wearing of correct clothing. Although the color does not always have to be black, it should be a very dark color. Men should wear a suit and tie, while women are expected to dress modestly. Neither will be required to wear a head covering. The service will have a stoic, solemn tone, and those in attendance should reflect respect in a similar manner.
Respecting the Family
Attending a Jehovah Witness' funeral is much like attending any other funerals, even if you are not a member of the group. Respectfully display your respect for the deceased and support for the family. Though their beliefs may be different than yours, respectful behavior honors the dead and the grieving.