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?