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Cremation and the Church

When we were at the Moody Bible Institution Pastor’s Conference we had a couple pastors that expressed concern about cremation. We decided to answer the concerns with a quote from Billy Graham. He was asked if cremation was against the teaching of the Bible and will those cremated be resurrected? Billy Graham’s answer is, “No, this isn't what the Bible says, and I find nothing in the Bible that forbids cremation as a means of disposing of a person's body. It's true that burial was the common practice in the Bible, and cremation was rare. When cremation was practiced, it showed contempt for the person (e.g., Achan, who disobeyed God and brought defeat to the Israelites—see Joshua 7:25). Cremation is often practiced today in cultures that have no respect for the human body or see it as evil; Christians in those societies reject cremation. We believe God gave us our bodies, and they should be treated with respect. After creating the human race, "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). One reason burial has been preferred by Christians is because the Bible teaches that one day those who die in Christ will be raised from the dead and given new bodies. But God is able to bring together whatever has been scattered: "And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens" (Mark 13:27).”

Around 400 A.D. because of Constantine the Great, (the Roman Emperor) made Christianity the dominant religion; replaced with in-ground or in-tomb burial with cremation. This would remain the accepted practice throughout Europe for approximately 1,500 years. 

Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews frown on cremation. However, cremation has been increasing among Jews, at least 30 percent of Jewish deaths in North America and Europe are followed by cremations, and the percentage is on the rise.

The early Roman Catholic Church rejected the practice of cremation. The basis for this rule was simply that God has created each person in His image and likeness, and therefore the body is good and should be returned to the earth at death. But on March 21, 1997, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments granted an indult authorizing each local bishop to set a policy regarding the presence of the cremains for the funeral Mass. Cremains must be treated with respect and must be interred or inurned after the funeral Mass.

Protestants are more accepting of cremation. Theologically, cremation is not a modern concept and in no way discounts the Christian understanding of resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Cremation simply speeds the natural process in which the body decomposes in burial. Cremation does not change God’s plan for us or diminish our love for the deceased. Christians have stated their belief in the life to come, and the hope of resurrection does not depend on the presentation of ones mortal remains. Therefore, cremation is entirely consistent with the Christian belief. A columbarium on the church grounds allows the closeness that church cemeteries once provided.


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