ASK BOB: “Is cremation Christian?”

Occasionally people ask my opinion on various personal or church issues. I recently received the following question which I have reprinted below, followed by my response.

QUESTION

Bob,  

I would like your thoughts as to what the Bible says about cremation.  Thank you so very much.

MY ANSWER

For centuries the Roman Catholic Church prohibited cremation and required the bodies of the faithful be buried.  Recently a new Code of Canon Law was introduced to Catholics that read, “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons contrary to Christian teaching.”

We have a wonderful slogan in the Christian Church: “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent.”  The Bible doesn’t speak directly to the issue of cremation, so the church doesn’t take an official church stance on it.  In Romans 14 the Apostle encouraged believers to not pass judgment on each other about “disputable matters” but “each one should be “fully convinced in his own mind.”  (See Romans 14:1 & 5.)

Although I have personally chosen to have my body buried (following the example of the burial of the patriarchs and Jesus), I think cremation is a matter of individual choice.  There is no direct commandment in Scripture forbidding it.  Since it reduces the skyrocketing cost of funerals, it’s understandable why an increasing number of people who pre-plan their funeral request cremation.  They believe they are making an unselfish decision to reduce the funeral expenses for their surviving loved ones.

Many Christians have been burned at the stake as martyrs, others have died in fires and explosions.  The God who created man from the dust of the ground is powerful enough to re-create new bodies.  That includes believers who died centuries ago and whose bodies have turned to dust, as well as those who expedited the process through cremation.

Theologian John Piper discourages Christians from choosing cremation in his blog post titled, “Should Christians Cremate Their Loved Ones?”  He regards the issue as a matter of preference, but I’d suggest you review Dr. Piper’s blog post to read an opposing view.

Dr. Piper and others who oppose cremation make basically three appeals:

1. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and needs to be treated with respect.  The Apostle Paul prayed that, “Christ will be exalted in my body whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:21) . “The use of fire to consume the human body on earth is not a glorious treatment of the body but a contemptuous one,” Piper writes.

2. Additionally, fire is associated with hell, torture, and injury, and therefore ending our lives here on earth with fire does not fall in line with Biblical teaching, Piper adds.

3. Traditionally Christians have regarded cremation with some suspicion because in the days of the early church the burning of the dead was a practice used by pagans.  “Cremation served as evidence of the pagan denial of Christian beliefs about the afterlife, especially the belief in the resurrection of the dead. In contrast…Christians buried their dead.”  The martyrs were burned at the stake as a sign of contempt of Jesus’ teachings about resurrection.

Since there is no direct Biblical command forbidding cremation even those who argue against it would regard it as a matter of opinion.  John Piper calls burial, “preferable” and urges readers not to condemn or ostracize a person who chooses differently.

This is one of those areas where Christians are given individual freedom.  There’s another good slogan we’ve often used in the Christian Church—in  doctrine, unity; in opinion, liberty; in all things; charity.”

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Associate Minister’s Gathering

November 5-8, 2017

featuring Bob Russell

and Doyle Roth


Encouraging, Equipping and 

Empowering Associate Ministers

at Country Lake Retreat Center 

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Special Thanks to Lisa Russell Photography 
for Website Photos