Some Christian leaders are giving counsel which leads the Christian public to accept the cremation of a corpse as a proper and convenient practice. If you are interested in a more careful approach to this subject, you are invited to read Pastor Kenneth F. Pierpont’s study of the history and general tenor of Scripture regarding cremation.
Is Cremation Christian?
“And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die; and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he swear to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:24-26).
Cremation’s Heathen Origin
The following is a quotation from Cremation – Is It Christian? by David W. Cloud, Loizeaux Brothers, Neptune, New Jersey:
“I am convinced that if Christians in America and Europe could stand with me beside the ‘holy’ River Bagmati in Kathmandu, Nepal, and observe the burning of the body of a Hindu following the performance of the Hindu death rituals, they would cast aside in repulsion every thought of cremation being an acceptable Christian practice. Just five days ago I stood three or so feet from a burning corpse with a missionary pastor from Singapore and his wife who were visiting us. The head was already burnt beyond recognition and the skull split open due to internal expansion from the heat of the fire. The lower legs and feet were unscorched, as they were protruding from the pile of burning wood and stubble upon which the man’s body lay. The professional Hindu burners were poking the body from time to time to keep the members in the fire and adding stubble and wood as needed. The bones were contracting and popping; the bodily organs were frying and the juices sizzling in the intense beat. My wife, a nurse with experience in a leprosy hospital and also in an intensive care ward, stood with another friend observing the ghastly sight from a distance, unwilling to come closer. The air for a hundred yards or more was filled with the unmistakable stench of burning flesh. When the fire had burnt most of the body, the ashes and remaining members were shoved into the river.
This is cremation as has been practiced by heathen religions for untold centuries, but without the sanitized ‘instant fry’ method adopted in technically advanced nations and sanctified by apostate Christians as an ‘acceptable Christian practice’.”
I have arrived at a settled conclusion: I believe that cremation is not only not a wise choice for informed Christians, I believe it is clearly evil. This message will attempt to explain why I hold this conviction.
I. Cremation is Wrong Because it Implies a Finality in Physical Death
I Thessalonians 4:16 teaches that the dead in Christ will rise before the living believers ascend to be with the Lord at the Rapture. Since the Scriptures also teach that the believer is present with the Lord at the moment of death (II Corinthians 5:8) then we ask, “In what sense does the believer rise to be with the Lord at the Rapture?” I believe the answer is this: At the Rapture the believer’s body, in glorified form, rises to meet his soul which has been with the Lord since his death. If this is so, then God is clearly not finally finished with the body merely because it dies. Of course, God is able to bring back together the body of any believer scattered in any form due to any type of death. My point here is that since we know the Lord is not finished with the body, we ought not desecrate it unnecessarily. I believe cremation is by definition a desecration of the body. For one to die in say, a fire, might involve the burning of the body. I do not interpret this as the same thing as the deliberate incineration of a corpse. The latter is, I think., wrong because it is the needless destruction of the representation of a human being made in the image of God.
It is not true that “It doesn’t matter what happens to the body after death” because God is not really finished with the believer’s body even though it dies. Cremation will not frustrate God’s purpose, but, it certainly ignores it !
Cremation precludes the possibility, as usually practiced, that loved ones may be given opportunity to see the remains of the deceased as a final tribute and remembrance just prior to burial. Instead, the form is radically changed in the mind from the body of the Christian loved one you will see again to a clay or ceramic jar, effectively obliterating the realization that in eternal life you will see your loved one. No, physical death is not final for the Christian.
II. Cremation is Wrong Because it Ignores the Link With Heathenism Which Christians Have Historically Attached to Cremation
Cremation was the customary practice among Greeks and not unknown among the Romans. This was true for centuries. The shameful polytheism of Greece included cremation among “the gods.” The epic poem “The Iliad,” by Homer features warfare among the Greek gods, disastrous warfare and cremation -The greater the pyre, the greater the glory!
Heathen religion has always taught that matter, the human condition is evil. As long as it exists, there is evil. Burning is the heathen way of cleansing. Heathen religions such as Hinduism teach that burning the body returns it to its original state, more nearly making an improved reincarnate life more likely. Heathen religion views death as a temporary return to “oneness.” The Hindu Upanishads, written as early as 800 B.C., teach that at the beginning of the universe only Self or Death or Hunger existed. All existence can be traced to “Self” or “oneness.” By ridding the person who has died of his body, not the putrefaction of the corpse, but the fact of the body, he may more easily migrate toward Brahman, the absolute reality of the universe. Cremation is quite consistent with this line of heathen reasoning, obviously! Because of the link with heathenism, cremation began to wane in use as early as 100 A.D. By 200 A.D. (authorities differ) it was disappearing from the Roman Empire. By 500 A.D. it had virtually disappeared.
It began to make its reappearance in England in the 19th century but was strongly opposed. Cremation was introduced in the U.S. just over 100 years ago (1876), where authorities report “it encountered considerable resistance” (Encyclopaedia Americana). It would encounter more resistance today if Christians were more alert students of the Word’. Why would any Christian adopt the practice of cremation which our fathers in the faith resisted and which requires such compromise with heathenism?
III. Cremation is Wrong Because it Ignores the Resurrection of the Body
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23, NIV). The Apostle Paul is here dealing with the physical aspects of a fallen creation. The triumph of the Resurrection effects a physical change in our bodies. The same thought is carried out in I Corinthians 15:50-54. Not that we are here stressing the translation of our physical bodies into Heaven as much as I am making the point that God changes that physical body into a glorified heavenly body. Why knowingly disgrace something with which God is not yet finished?
David W. Cloud (Cremation, What Does God Think, p. 7) makes the same point this way: “The reason God’s people have always been careful to practice burial is not difficult to understand. We believe in a bodily resurrection. Yes, the buried body will decompose in time. Yes, there are occasions in which Christians die in ways which render burial impossible — in sinking of ships, in house fires, etc. But when at all possible we bury. Why the trouble? Because it is our certain hope that the same individual will be raised in the same body, only changed.
Cloud continues (loc. cit.): “Contrast heathenism. They have no such knowledge or hope. The Hindus and Buddhists, for example, believe in reincarnation. Yes, they believe in a human soul which is distinct from the body. But they do not believe that the soul, once departed from the body at death, will be resurrected in any relation whatsoever to the first body. Rather they believe the soul will be reincarnated in another entirely unrelated body, or into a non-physical, sphere of existence.”
IV. Cremation is Wrong Because it Intentionally Destroys What Everywhere in Scripture was Reverently Buried
Abraham: “… died in a good old age and his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah (Genesis 25:8,9).”
Sarah: was reverently buried by Abraham after mourning his loss and he “…spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight” (Genesis 23:2-4).
Rachel: “And Rachel died and was buried in the way to Ephrath… And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day” (Genesis 35:19-20).
David: “So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David”(I Kings 2:10).
John Baptist: Though beheaded, was buried: “And he (Herod) sent, and beheaded John in prison.., and his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus” (Matthew 14:10-12).
Stephen: The church’s first martyr, Stephen, was buried: “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him’ (Acts 8:2).
Moses: “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day” (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). God buried Moses
Joseph: The body of Joseph was carried up out of Egypt by the people of Israel who kept it with them for forty years before burying it in the promised land (Joshua 24:32).
While people of faith of the Bible reverently cared for the dead body and gently buried it, even after forty years of great inconvenience, our “milk-toast” faith hardly endures forty minutes before an unscriptural decision is made to rid ourselves of the inconvenience of a corpse of a loved one!
V. Cremation is Wrong Because God Used the Destruction of the Human Body or of Objects by Fire as a Sign of Divine Wrath
There Is the example of Sodom and Gomorrah. God rained down fire and destruction upon this sinful culture (II Peter 2:6).
There is the example of Nadab and Abihu, who made strange fire. Though they were sons of Aaron and priests, as a result of their disobedience, God sent fire and devoured them (Leviticus 10:1-2).
There is the example of Korah and those who rebelled against God in the days of Moses: “… there went out fire from the Lord and consumed two hundred and fifty men that offered incense”(Numbers 16:35).
There is the example of Israel’s golden calf, which was conceived in evil and unbelieving minds. God destroyed it by fire (Exodus 32:20).
At Ephesus, the believers confessed their sins of having taken part in heathenism and magic and there burned their wicked books and objects of the occult (Acts 19:18-19).
The unsaved will suffer, with Satan, in eternal fire, created by God for the devil and his angels (Revelation 20:15).
VI. Cremation is Wrong Because it Does not Discern the Presence and Power of Satan
I have noted from time to time that in talking with mature Christians about the practice of cremation that there is among not a few of them a certain uneasiness, even a foreboding, about discussing the subject to any degree. Why do you think this is so?
As a minister of the Gospel, I have a most distinct and unexplainable loathing, an eerie feeling when I am in the presence of cremation funerary objects. I am sure this is not imaginary. What is the explanation? According to the New Testament, Satan is the present “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). According to I Corinthians 14:33 “…God is not the author of confusion,” This word may also be translated “tumult” or “instability” or “disorder.” I believe cremation introduced into the Christian realm works confusion or disorder. The Holy Spirit, working in the Christian, brings, I think, the uneasiness about which I have been speaking because the practice of cremation is distinctly non-Christian and therefore not pleasing to the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. The sensitive believer is thus “of the Lord” and finds cremation and its attendant circumstances offensive.
Satan blinds men to the truth (II Corinthians 4:4). The Holy Spirit “guides us into all truth” (John 16:13). As an informed Christian, I believe the Holy Spirit will probably lead you to discern the specific evils of cremation if you will let Him We as believers must not be ignorant of his “devices” (II Corinthians 2:11).
VII. Cremation is Wrong Because it Unwittingly Plays Into the Hands of the New Age Movement
What possible connection could there be between the following: yoga — oneness — reincarnation — unity — universalism — meditation — no retribution — elevation of Lucifer — visualization — guided imagery? The answer is that they are all terms and concepts which are part and parcel of the New Age Movement and Hinduism. Cremation is a vital part of this pagan religion!
Please note this quotation from Walter H. Martin’s book, The Kingdom of the Cults (Bethany Fellowship, Minneapolis, 1965):
“The great English apologist and writer, C. S. Lewis, saw the battle lines clearly drawn. He noted that in the final conflict between religions, Hinduism and Christianity would offer the only viable options because Hinduism absorbs all religious systems, and Christianity excludes all others, maintaining the supremacy of the claims of Jesus Christ” (p. 13).
A few evenings ago, I was listening for a few minutes to the television call-in show being presented by a “Christian” psychologist. After a few non-related questions, a viewer called in and asked: “Is there anything wrong with cremation?” This “Christian” psychologist, on a large cable television network, dispatched the question with a single sentence: “No, there is nothing wrong with cremation whatsoever.” Quite wrong, Mr. Psychologist, Cremation of the corpse is a desecration of the dead. It is a capitulation to evil and especially to the evil one. The Bible says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22).
Many of us, as Christians, have been quietly drawn into the acceptance of cremation, I am afraid, because we have not carefully considered what it is. The modern crematory may be referred to as a “retort” and by heat but not flame burns the corpse to 2.4 pounds of ash in about two hours. The bones are then pulverized and placed in a cremation urn” (Robert Slater, Academic American Encyclopedia, Volume 5, p. 338, Danbury, CT, 1988). While this may sound “scientific” and innocent enough, it remains basically the same thing as the crude practices of heathen religion along the banks of a “sacred” river in a “less” enlightened” land. I believe the Lord is not pleased when Christians blindly follow such a shallow and unbiblical option. Is cremation Christian? Absolutely not!
by Kenneth F. Pierpont, D.Min.