Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Is it a sin to be cremated?

The Bible doesn't expressly forbid the practice of cremation, but the examples we have in Scripture of the people of God caring for the remains of the dead are decidedly in favor of burial. And of course the burial of our Lord Jesus Christ serves as an example which Christians have genrally wished to follow.

Normally in Scripture, burning the dead was a sign of a person’s having died under God’s curse. It was a punishment inflicted upon the corpse of a particularly egregious offender. We see this punishment commanded, for instance, in the case of Achan. By the command of God, Achan was stoned for his offense of stealing from God, and his body was burned (Josh. 7:15, 25; see also Lev. 20:14; 21:9).

A number of cultures, both ancient and modern, have at different times practiced cremation for various reasons—some for practical and others for religious reasons.

Burial seems at first to have been the usual custom among the ancient Greeks; but later cremation became widely practiced, especially in times of plague, or after a battle in order to prevent enemies from disgracing the corpses of the Greek warriors, or in order to more conveniently bring their remains home for burial.

The Romans (at least members of the aristocracy) also at certain points in their history practiced cremation.

It’s well-known that the Vikings practiced cremation; and Hindu’s still do.

One thing that will be noticed here is that all these cultures that have practiced cremation have been pagan cultures.

It’s interesting that wherever the Christian faith has been introduced and taken hold, the practice of cremation has been replaced by burial. The care of the body by means of burial has always been thought to be more consistent with the Christian’s hope of the resurrection.

Did you know that it’s the traditional Christian practice for graves to lie lengthwise from east to west, with the head of the deceased toward the west and the feet toward the east? This is in anticipation of the resurrection at the second coming of Christ, so that when the faithful are raised up they will be facing the east so as to witness the coming of Christ to Jerusalem. Even in burial the faithful Christian is giving a witness to Jesus Christ.

Non-Christian and post-Christian countries have very high cremation rates. The rate in Japan is 97%; in Great Britain its 70%; in Scandinavia it’s 65%.

About a third of those who die in the U.S. are cremated.

Some who choose cremation do so as a very self-conscious way of rejecting the Christian faith, particularly Christian teaching concerning the afterlife. They want to make a secular statement. They want to say by their cremation that they deny life after death; that they deny the resurrection. It’s interesting that the cremation rates are highest in the most secular states of the country:  67% in Hawaii and Nevada and just at or above 60% in Washington, Oregon, and Arizona. Throughout the Bible belt, however, the rates are under 10%.

"The first cremation in America took place in 1876, accompanied by readings from Charles Darwin and the Hindu scriptures." (Timothy George, Cremation Confusion).

Now of course not everyone who chooses cremation does so to make a secular statement. Increasingly people are choosing cremation for simple economic reasons. Cremation often runs between a quarter to one-half the cost of burial.

But is it sinful to be cremated? The Bible doesn’t expressly say so, but the pattern of Scripture is certainly instructive, and I think ought to be regarded as normative. And the pattern of Scripture is clearly in favor of burial as the only honorable disposal of the remains of the dead. Certainly, the care of the body in burial accords well with the Christian hope of the resurrection and it serves as the last testimony the Christian can give to Jesus Christ.

It is not at all surprising that as unbelief in the church increases, so should the acceptance of cremation as a viable alternative to burial.

Let me summarize by saying, although we have no express command in the Bible forbidding cremation, the universal practice of the saints in Scripture ought to be regarded as a normative principle. In other words, we ought to be content to follow the example of the saints of Scripture and be laid in the ground to await the resurrection.

7 comments:

David said...

A friend died in a fire. He was a believer. Would his body not be renewed at the second coming?
I dare say it would, as well as the countless souls who held a faith in the savior who died at sea or those whose bodies were mangled in car crashes or blown to bits in 9/11

Dust to dust, Ashes to Ashes

Doug Enick said...

Yes, the Lord will raise up all who have died, believers and unbelievers alike, regardless of how they met their demise or what was done to their bodies afterward. Nevertheless, burial is more consistent with biblical faith and practice.

Anonymous said...

My Mom just passed away and we chose to have her cremated. Mom never said what we needed to do and I didn't know what should be done. I'm a Christian and my Mom made things right with the Lord before she passed. I completely believe with all my heart. That God can bring together the body, he spoke worlds into existence. And in my heart, I never intended this to be any statement, she is with Jesus. But what we do with her Ashes will be thought out more.

Doug Enick said...

Anonymous, I am sorry to hear about your mother's passing. I lost my father earlier this year, too.

I realize that many people choose cremation without any intention of making a statement or denying the faith. For many it's simply a matter of cost.

Don't let your conscience be troubled, but do consider burial for loved ones in the future.

Anonymous said...

Cremation is the burning of a dead body right, so does that assosiate in any way with the burning of a soul in hell?
With ressurection and stuff in the bible does it specifically say that it is the body and soul are ressurected as a whole or that the soul is resurected within another life form?

Abed Nadier said...

Personally I don't agree with cremation but I wouldn't think less of someone who believed in that choice of burial. My friends' mom just died and he's been trying to find cremation services because he knew that's what she would have wanted. It's been hard for him but at least he knows that she definitely wanted that.

TeddyDaUgly said...

first off cremation is ok to do. Gods not ganna be mad furious or ganna punish you because you burned da shell your soul was in and no there are no association between your body burning as your final rest, and your soul burning and suffering in hell.. yah Jesus Christ our God almighty may have not been cremated but it wasn't like he told the Romans to make sure he lay in this cave, thay could of easily try setting his body on fire, dosent mean it would of burned if any thing it wouldn't.just to prove that he was God. Our bibles history could of be changed if this happened. me personaly i told my friends and family that i truly want to be cremated i want my ashes to stay with the closest people to me as in family my bishop and my Christian
family that help changed the life of a wicked soul threw the grace of my Father our God Jesus Christ!!