I FAVOR BURIAL OVER CREMATION

A few decades ago we hardly heard about it. Now it is common and growing in popularity. The national average rate rose from 3% in 1958 to 40% in 2010. Projections suggest 55% in 2025. Finances and mobility favor cremation. If you’re seldom visiting the place where you grew up, visits to the cemetery seem unlikely.

Consider why you might want to pay for the burial:

The example of Christ. “…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scripture, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (I Corinthians 15:3,4). The message of the gospel includes the burial of Christ. Paul writes that “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). We not only identify with Christ in His death; we identify with Him in His burial. Baptism, not cremation, is a picture of burial. That reality must have impacted the early church to favor burial over the pagan practice of cremation, and it has persisted through history until the last two decades. Burial for a New Testament believer was a theological statement, not just a mode of dealing with the dead. And it found its way into the major creeds of the Church. Every immersion of a new believer rehearses the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, into which the baptized one participates.

Bible analogies. Burying is like planting. “What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable” (I Cor. 15:42). Burying is also like sleeping (I Cor. 15:18, 20). Eyes will be opened again when the Bridegroom returns to wake up those who sleep. The picture of burning a body in the Scriptures is not a positive one, either in time or eternity.

The theology of the body. Christians honor the body as the creation of God and the temple of the Holy Spirit. That the Word became flesh forever gives value to our bodies. This is not the theology of major religions of the world, that typically honor the spirit over the body, that seek release from the limitations that the body imposes upon the spirit. Burning bodies in the Old Testament was reserved for idols, criminals, and enemies. Joseph had his brothers take an oath that they would carry his bones back to the homeland. It was such a big deal that Moses referenced it (Ex. 13), then the book of Joshua as well (24:32) when they made it to the land–with the bones! David commended the people of Jabesh Gilead for burying Saul’s bones (see also Amos 2:1). The early church would not have considered cremation an honoring of the body that Christ died to redeem. They saw it practiced by the pagan religions and considered it a devaluation of the body.

Most of the religions of the world, including Hinduism, Buddhism, atheism, and neopaganism encourage cremation. Many Buddhists choose cremation because the Buddha was cremated, but burial is also permissible. Reincarnation is the basis for Hinduism’s association with cremation, which encourages the soul to leave the body and move toward emancipation.

I have never heard a teaching on burial over cremation. It has not been an issue. Now it is. I suspect that the apostles would have had a stronger outlook regarding burial as over against cremation than most Christians do today. That concerns me. I am not ready to be dogmatic, but I hope that convenience or budget are not the only considerations being taken. “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” I have more faith for burying than burning. What about you?

5 thoughts on “I FAVOR BURIAL OVER CREMATION

  1. To be honest, I’ve never thought about this but now you’ve got me thinking. So what of those Christians that have chosen cremation and had that done for them after death?

  2. You make some very good points from Scripture. When I have considered this question and the opposing views, what came to mind were the martyrs who were used as living torches in Nero’s gardens. They were “cremated” in a sense, though of course not as a choice. I once heard Pat Robertson speak of cremation being a hindrance to the resurrection of the body. It’s what made me think of those who have been burned at the stake for their faith. I don’t think they are going to miss out. Both of my in-laws were cremated but the urns with their ashes were buried.
    I wonder if it makes a difference what form your body is in when it’s buried.

  3. My faith is perfectly okay with cremation. But yet I have a cousin who thinks I’m a pagan and won’t talk to me because I believe this way.

    I’m not Jewish so why do I need to follow Jewish traditions? Please, let’s not get confused “Jewish Traditions” with God’s will and what the Bible says. The Presbyterian preacher George Buttrick once said, “There is nothing more incongruous than dressing up a corpse in a tuxedo!”

    The entire process of cremation, whether or not it includes a service or just the incineration of the corpse, is far cheaper than burial, even though a coffin or container is used.
    Think of the hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used to serve the poor. In Japan where there is a shortage of land it is almost impossible to use the Jewish tradition of burial. Are the faithful Christian Japanese out of the will of God?

    For those prone to ponder the lasting appearance, the process of cremation offers a quick, purifying process. This helps people to banish the thought of the body lying for decades in the ground while suffering slow decay.
    Should we use the Egyptian tradition of mummifying? That honors the dead corpse more than the Jewish tradition?
    Our body decomposes what difference does it make if it is flame or worm?

    At the resurrection it will not make any difference whether a person’s body has been buried or cremated. God knows how to raise the body, either in the resurrection of life or the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29). The new body of a Christian will be a radically changed and glorified body like the body of the exalted Christ. It will be an eternal, spiritual body never again to experience weakness, disease, suffering, or death (1 Corinthians 15:35-54 and Philippians 3:20-21).

  4. For most people, modern burial has become so expensive that they cannot afford it. Being pumped full of chemicals and placed in an over priced container isn’t appealing to a lot of people. In contrast, cremation seems like a clean, affordable way to dispose of a body. In addition, cremains do not require large plots of land for storage. I doubt applying early burial practices to today’s is valid.

  5. I have faith the disposition of my body at my death is irrelevant because my justification comes by way of God’s grace alone through a faith alone that rests in Christ alone.

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