Cremation has a long, sacred past deeply ingrained in cultures throughout the history of mankind. Virtually every race and religion, from all parts of the world, has practiced this ancient tradition at one time or another. Many still do, as an integral aspect of their belief systems, particularly in southern Asiatic regions where religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism thrive.
However, followers of Christ (and Judaism), particularly through the Catholic Church, resisted this practice for nearly two thousand years. Only recently have the majority of men and women living in the Christian faith, including Pope Paul VI in 1963, recognized that cremation does not contradict the Bible’s teachings on resurrection. When considering Christian cremation, the surest answers will always come from your church, the Bible, and prayer. However, below are some commonly asked questions regarding cremation and the Christian faith, and the most widely accepted answers with regard to scripture. Consider it a FAQ on cremation and Christianity.
- Is it OK to plan for your own cremation or for cremating the body of a loved one?
- Why did Christianity disapprove of cremation for so long?
- When and why did Christian resistance to the practice start to change?
- What will happen to my soul after I’m cremated, according to my faith?
To start with the easiest question first, the answer is probably yes. Few if any churches actively assert that cremation has any effect whatsoever on the immortal soul or that God, in his omnipotence, is incapable of resurrecting the cremated dead. It is OK for you to cremate or to be cremated. Christian cremation is accepted by most denominations to the extent that some even maintain a “garden of remembrance” where families may scatter the remains of loved ones. The best way to get a definitive answer to this question, of course, is to consult with your priest or pastor, to read the Bible, or to pray for guidance.
According to Christianity Today, there are 4 main reasons Christianity, especially early Christianity, resisted cremation.
- Our bodies were created in God’s image and therefore deserve to be treated with reverence.
- When the word became flesh, God hallowed our existence forever.
- The Holy Spirit existed in the bodies of believers.
- Jesus was buried and raised from the dead, so cremation was seen as an impediment to resurrection.
The early Catholic Church professed these beliefs, as well as such scriptural justifications such as the burial of Moses, the act of burning used as punishment in many Old Testament circumstances, and St. Paul’s teaching that God will raise the decomposing bodies of his followers. The Catholic Church went so far as to continue the act of burning as punishment for heretics and pagans, only changing its belief on cremation in 1963, when Pope Paul VI stated that cremation does not prevent “the omnipotence of God from rebuilding the body”.
Protestant faiths embraced cremation much earlier than the Catholic Church, dating back to the 19th century. While many can, and do, draw interpretations from the Bible concerning God’s will on the matter of cremation, the Bible has given no definitive stance on the question. While many analogies can be drawn, at no point does the Bible say that cremation is right or wrong. Like the Catholics, the most widely accepted Protestant view is that, after a Christian funeral, cremation is acceptable.
Although the Church clearly favored burial throughout history, today most denominations accept the idea of a Christian cremation. The Bible, remaining forever silent on the matter, seems to have left the decision up to us. In the 1960s, the Catholic Church lifted its absolute ban on cremation, given that proper funeral rites are administered to the deceased before the cremation. The change in attitude seems to be a response to long-standing and ever-increasing demand, often spurred by concern for land use or the expense of a burial.
As for what will happen to the soul after cremation, assuming the deceased have been given proper funeral services, it is the general belief among Christians that the spirit will return to the Father in heaven regardless of the condition of the flesh. As Billy Graham has noted, cremation cannot prevent God from calling forth the dead.