Bury or Cremate? Gospel Witness Must Inform Our Decision
Dr. Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has written at least two articles on the issue of burial vs. cremation: "Grave Signs" and "The Empty Tomb and the Emptied Urn." In these articles, Dr. Moore discussed the historical-biblical Christian view on why burial is to be preferred over cremation. He discussed how this issue is related to the Christian hope for the resurrection.
Before being challenged to carefully think through this issue while at seminary, I believed the matter to be so unimportant as to be unworthy of reflection. I did not think that the Bible really addressed this issue. I was (and am) sure that Christian bodies which are burned can still take part in the coming resurrection. I thought that it would be wise to save money by choosing cremation over burial. So I understand how Christians, trying to make a wise decision, can reach the conclusion to cremate.
My current views on the subject, however, are well-summarized by "Steve," who commented on "The Empty Tomb and the Emptied Urn" [I can no longer see his comment online]:
I am sensitive to deep feelings many have about how they cared for bodies of their loved ones. God will raise every believer in a bodily resurrection, regardless of how the dead body was treated or mistreated. In that sense, with regard to God's power and the final outcome, burial vs. cremation does not matter. Yet it does matter to those still living on earth. Our funeral practice should reflect a true biblical theology in which God is profoundly concerned with our bodies. Jesus Christ took on a body, died on the Cross and rose to redeem not just our souls, but also our bodies. We believe in the resurrection of the body, not eternal bodiless life in heaven. Early Christians treated the dead differently from pagans who burned their dead. Burial is not commanded, but expresses hope and respect for the flesh God created. Burial stands against incipient Gnosticism which suggests the body is simply disposable.Since virtually every person must one day face the issue of burial vs. cremation, we must give this matter careful consideration. Those who follow Christ must seek wisdom first and foremost from God's Word. We should also look to how our older brothers and sisters in Christ have thought through this issue in past centuries.
Within the Reformed tradition, the Second Helvetic Confession directly addresses the subject of burial in Chapter 26, with the following words:
The Scripture directs that the bodies of the faithful, as being temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19‡; cf. John 2:21-22‡), which we truly believe shall rise against at the last day, should be honorably, without any superstition, committed to the earth; and, besides, that we should make honorable mention of those who died in the Lord (cf. Rev 14:13‡)... we do greatly mislike the Cynics, who neglected the bodies of the dead, or did carelessly and disdainfully cast them into the earth,The framers of the Second Helvetic Confession saw this as a matter of Christian witness vs. paganism. In this, they were in line with Augustine, who also wrote on the propriety of burial. For more information on Augustine's view, with some additional considerations of this issue, I recommend Daniel Scheiderer's excellent article: "Cremation? Burial? A Simple Commentary on Augustine."
Labels: Christian worldview