-by Tony Warren
Can cremation (rather than historical burial) be an option for the believer? From my understanding of scripture, I must in all good conscience say that unless it is 'absolutely' unavoidable, the answer is an unequivocal no. Normally, christians and cremation should be an oxymoron. Sometimes it can be unavoidable (as I understand burial is not permitted in some major cities of Japan, thus cremation is pretty much a requirement), nevertheless, this is not the proper Biblical Christian way to handle deceased loved ones.
I should state right up front that cremation doesn't affect anyone's salvation. If you are saved when you die, nothing done afterward has any bearing on you. However, we're not talking about salvation here, we are addressing the God glorifying Christian way to handle the bodies of our family and friends. In our day, sound Biblical judgment is clouded by man's vain philosophies, secular humanism, and social practicality. But these are not valid replacements for sound Biblical principles and judgments. The rising acceptance of cremation in the modern Church has (not coincidentally) coincided with a marked departing from the faith, and a falling away from adherence to traditional Christian values and sound doctrines based upon the doctrines of sola scriptura.
Cremation was not an issue for the early Church, which historically taught that burial was the 'Christian' (Biblical) thing to do for loved ones. Unfortunately, in today's world, finances, humanistic reasoning and changing cultures seem to be the determining factors of what is considered biblical or unbiblical in making funeral arrangements. The whole mind set has changed, and this is a substantial shift from the historical Christian teaching on the matter.
In my thinking, it really should be self evident to anyone reading scripture, that burial and not cremation, is in full harmony with (and is a testimony to) the hope of the resurrection. And this is what often get's lost in all the rhetoric of those who tacitly support cremation. It is hard to even imagine God appointing cremation in anticipation of raising His only begotten Son from the dead. Symbolism is important in scripture, and we should not deviate from that Christian practice. In fact, historically cremation has been associated with the efforts of Pagans in their denial of the resurrection of the body. While burial has been seen as the 'signification' God uses in the resurrection figure, and has been the way that Christians show respect for God, and honor His example when their loved ones die. thus I believe that we should not desire cremation, and indeed, that it is our obligation to choose burial whenever possible. When we look at these reasons carefully, we understand that it is more than just a custom or tradition, it is a Biblical figure instituted as a separation or division between Heathen/Pagan and Christian heritages. It was a Biblical 'sign' of the division of the dead in preparation for resurrection, and for destruction. Historically God illustrated this separation of Pagan customs and practices from the practices of the Children of God.
It can be demonstrated that cremation has its origins in Paganism, and for thousands of years has been practiced by the those who do not know God. Used both as a cause of death, and as an after death practice, it is never used by God's people, nor illustrated in scripture as anything good.
2nd Chronicles 33:5-6
Christians and cremation do not go together. God declared that His people were to be separate from the traditions and practices of their Pagan neighbors. He forbade the believers of the Old Testament from following the religions and customs of the un-Godly foreigners, and commanded His Children should bury their dead bodies.
It is interesting that cremation in Christian culture was extremely rare until the nineteenth century. It was not even legal in England until 1884. The first crematory in America was built in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1876 by non-christians who cared nothing about Godly practices. In this country cremation historically has always been unpopular and deemed unchristian. In point of fact, as late as the 1970's only about eight percent of those who died were cremated. But along with the changing moral values and the increase in false and eastern religious influences in this country, came the rise in the acceptance of burning bodies.
There is no scripture which ever speaks of a Christian ever being cremated. This alone should alert the Biblically minded student that it is something that God has not assigned for the Child of God. Burning is a 'scriptural' symbol or sign of destruction, and thus is not to be the figure for a Christian. The heathen nations burned the bodies of their dead, but God's people buried their dead in the earth or in sepulchres. When we read the accounts of the early martyrs of the Church, we see that the faithful treated the bodies of the dead in the traditional way, with respect, as they were taken away for burial. And we have clear historical precedent that the Roman (pagan) practice of cremation was shunned by these Christians.
As a matter of Biblical precedent, all of the examples of the Saints in scripture show that they were either entombed or buried. We have clear examples of this in passage after passage:
Moreover, God Himself buried Moses in a valley in the land of Moab over against Bethpeor (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). What more witness of scripture do we need for the Christian method of burial? Unfortunately in our day, no amount of Biblical evidence against this practice seems to be enough. For much of the Church today is caught up in the will of man (lust of the flesh) to do what seems right in their own eyes. This, coupled with the cultural humanistic changes of society, has caused many to depart from the historical Christian teachings. They look upon these Biblical precedents as old fashioned or Old Testament thinking, oblivious to the truth that the Bible is a timeless book. In fact, the same Biblical precedent for burial in the Old Testament continues right into the New Testament era, as we read that Lazarus (whom Jesus loved) was buried in a tomb.
The 'aesthetic argument' is without a doubt the most ridiculous and self-serving defense for cremation that I have ever heard a professed Christian attempt to make. What Christian is going to have to look at a decaying corpse after it is buried? For the most part, once a corpse is buried, it stays buried. And even if moved, the loved ones never see an exhumed body. So this is a spurious defense, and really beneath the Christian to attempt to use it to justify himself.
Another weak argument for cremation is the Hygiene question. This has nothing to do with biblical principles or sound Christian behaviour, it leans upon social philosophy and science, rather than theology. The current graveyards pose absolutely no problem in terms of hygiene and health. The argument that burial is unsanitary (particularly in this country), is to dabble in absurdity and is just another excuse which some people choose to use in order to ease their mind and allow this un-christian action.
As for the 'economics defense,' it is somewhat true that there is a price difference, but it is not that great a price difference 'providing' one chooses a reputable funeral director, and an economical coffin and service. Of course if one is encouraged by funeral directors to select the best of everything, funerals can run well over the $10,000 figure. The point is to have a simple funeral service with a simple coffin, and the price will not be much more than cremation, and will be totally in line with the scriptures and the Christian faith. What is the price put on doing the right (Biblical) thing? And the bottom line really is, Christians should try to do the 'Biblical' thing. To surrender 'all' for the cause of Christ.
For faithful Christian, the question should be, "What does the Bible have to say about cremation?" In the history of the world, not only has burning been traditionally reserved for the ungodly, such as heretics and witches, but the scriptures consistently indicate that having one's body burned is a curse of God, thus certainly not anything that a Christian would desire. Why indeed would any Christian want to give his body over to such an obvious 'sign' of judgment?
2nd Kings 23:19-20
Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit of God, and therefore, even after we have died, they should be treated with respect for the creator who made them. We should endeavor to remember that we are not our own, and that our bodies belong to God, therefore they should not be burned into lime even after our spirit has departed.
1st Corinthians 6:19-20
I believe that the scriptures commend burial by equating the burial of the believer with the planting of a seed (1st Corinthians 15:35-44), giving witness to the hope of the final resurrection. It is quite conclusive that the scriptures describe burial as the 'normal' action taken for the body of the Christian who dies. It is part of the cycle of life ordained by God. The scriptures teach that man was formed out of dust.
But again I reiterate, 'burning a body in cremation in no way affects God's ability to resurrect either the believer, or the unbeliever.' Unfortunately, because of this Biblical fact there are some who rationalize that, 'because we know that cremation doesn't affect anyone's Salvation or judgment, therefore it doesn't matter how we dispose of a loved one's body.' That is an untrue, and misleading conclusion. It matters because the desire of the Christian is to do the will of God, not to sin that Grace may abound. It matters because it's a matter of Christian principle and because the Word of God itself matters.
Pastors, Elders, and other Church leaders should be teaching the congregation of the truth of burial, instead, in many cases they are in league with the world and giving tacit approval of cremation, not willing to offend. It is painfully clear from the witness of scripture that the standard for Christians has always been (and remains), burial. The burning of a body is spoken of as either a transgression of the laws of God, or as a judgment of God upon wickedness. These are things which cannot be gainsaid or denied. Certainly to be accidentally burned up in a plane crash, or house fire, or to have loved ones bodies burned in circumstances beyond one's control in no way affects our standing with God. But to willfully burn a body is contrary to scripture, and should not be done by the faithful Christian. The Church has always (and should always) continue to get their instruction for dealing with the dead from the examples and precedence set in the Word of God. Let us in the burial of our loved, see it as a sign of their rising to be with God. Let us joy in this and not worldly traditions.
And may the Lord who is gracious above all, give us the understanding to discern these truths, and the wisdom needed to separate His thoughts from our own.
Copyright ©2001 Tony Warren
Created 3/18/01 / Last Modified 3/23/01
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