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Cremation: Was/Is there a Reformed Consensus?

It’s no secret that Christians have historically buried their dead, but an increasingly popular manner of dealing with one’s mortal remains is cremation.  That’s true in America in general and among professing Christians as well.

But, should that be so?

“Cremation … is of pagan origin; it was never a custom in Israel or in Christian nations, and militates against Christian mores. Burial, on the other hand, is much more nearly in harmony with Scripture and creed, history, and liturgy, with the doctrine of the image of God that is also manifest in the body, with the doctrine of death as a punishment for sin, and with the respect that is due to the dead and the resurrection on the last day. Christians do not, like the Egyptians, artificially conserve corpses; nor do they mechanically destroy them, as many people desire today. But they entrust them to the earth’s bosom and let them rest until the day of the resurrection” (Herman Bavinck, ‘The Last Things’, 135).

Incidentally, I don’t think it’s a valid argument against cremation that God would somehow have difficulty putting a body back together again at the resurrection to bring it into its glorified, imperishable state.

My assessment: At best cremation is an argument from silence, meaning it’s not explicitly prohibited. But that really only goes so far, as I can think of a whole host of things we’d not do with a loved one’s dead body that aren’t prohibited explicitly in Scripture (eg, cutting up bits of the deceased so each family member could could wear it as a necklace).

I think it matters what we do with the material part of our brethren. Given the biblical pattern of burial and the burning of bodies never being portrayed in a positive light, I think the burden of proof lies with the cremation camp.

If I had my druthers, we’d do like the church I attended in England and bury our church members in the church courtyard.  We’d walk past them each week as a reminder of our unity and collective hope in Christ of the future resurrection.

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About Eric "Gunny" Hartman

Gunny is pastor of Providence Church in Plano, TX, and has taught at Dallas Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has completed coursework for a PhD in Rhetoric at University of Texas at Arlington and tries to be a good father to his 4 kiddos, exhibited by coaching a girls soccer team.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “Cremation: Was/Is there a Reformed Consensus?

  1. In this write-up we are really going to cover the essential ritual of funerals in the Jewish religion.

    Posted by cremation urn | January 31, 2012, 3:39 am
  2. Bavinck says “Christians do not, like the Egyptians, artificially conserve corpses.” That’s not true in our day. When you die, your family will spend many thousands of dollars to have your corpse embalmed and placed in a hermetically sealed metal (usually) box. That box will then be placed in a concrete shell down underground in some huge park on the outskirts of town where you’ll be surrounded by so many other concrete shells with metal boxes, themselves containing embalmed strangers. The State is very particular about these things. This doesn’t follow any “biblical pattern of burial” that I can see.

    I spoke once with a fellow who worked as an exhumer. As it turns out, if you undergo a “conventional” burial, far from returning to the earth from whence you came, you will end up spending your days between now and the Resurrection resembling a well-preserved but somewhat moldy raisin.

    When I die, I’d like to be wrapped in a sheet and planted somewhere I could feed a tree. Barring that, having my body reduced to dust and poured out at the base of a tree is probably closer to “burial” than what passes for it in our culture — and is certainly more in keeping with the notion of “returning to the dust”.

    Posted by RonH | October 8, 2011, 2:21 pm
  3. Brother Eric, this issue is very significant for our times in light of the increase in the cremation option that many Christians are taking nowadays when regular casket funerals costs from $3k to 12k plus the cost of the burial plot.
    My preference is that I be cremated to avoid having another financial burden placed on my surviving family. Moreover, what about the thousands of Christian martyrs that were burned alive by the Roman church throughout Europe when protestants were considered heretics? I would argue that your dismissal of the argument that our all mighty God is certainly capable of recovering the dust of our ashes when the rapture and/or resurrection takes place. Furthermore, buried remains eventually turn to ashes. Recall the funeral mantra: “ashes to ashes, from the dust we were created and to the dust we will return” (or something like that)? Another potential situation would be the incineration caused by a nuclear exchange of atomic weapons. The fact is, the NT states that our fleshly bodies or remains will be transformed into glorified bodies at the rapture/resurrection since finite, human flesh cannot enter the kingdom of God in heaven. Let’s see what others have to say about this. It is quite interesting and should be addressed by all believers as they make their funeral arrangements.

    Posted by bereanfields | October 7, 2011, 11:39 pm

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