The following was written by a pastor for his own congregation as he was about to conduct his first funeral for a cremated member. — Editor
It used to be that no God-fearing Christian would consider cremation as an option for Christian burial.
One Lutheran theologian wrote, “Cremation is an insidious denial of the resurrection from the dead. Our Christian consciousness shrinks from it, and can but shudder at the thought of it. A Lutheran pastor certainly cannot with a good conscience officiate at such a burial.” Therein lies the church’s reason for opposing cremation. It was seen as a denial of belief in the resurrection of the dead, and was, in fact, often used by unbelievers as a challenge to God. It was as if the person were saying to God: “You just try to resurrect my body and judge me!”
In this world of increasing funeral costs, cremation is becoming increasingly popular even among Christians. After all, some feel, is it good stewardship to use a good portion of the family’s meager income or inheritance simply to put a body in the ground?
Is cremation God-pleasing? It depends on the motivation of the individual. If we are trying to challenge God by destroying the body, that is not God-pleasing. Obviously, that may be the attitude of the unbeliever. Such people, as Jesus says, “are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mt. 22:29).
For the believer in Christ, cremation is in no way seen as a hindrance to God and the resurrection. Job confesses: “After my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:26f).
Adam, Job, and countless other believers have long ago returned to the dust of the earth. And yet, they too shall stand in the resurrection at the Last Day in their bodies, as Scripture teaches: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. . . . It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42ff); “[Christ] will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body . . . ” (Php. 3:21).
Should we allow cremation or not? It is not a matter of getting the permission of the church, nor is it the church’s place to forbid it across the board. There is no law against cremation. Although many have pointed to Christ’s burial, the burial of Moses by God (Deut. 34:5f), as well as that of the burial of the patriarchs, David, Lazarus and others as strongly suggesting that a Christian ought to be buried, there is no command given in Scripture that we must bury our dead.
But the bottom line is that cremation is a matter of Christian freedom. Burial may be preferable, but as long as the weak are instructed concerning cremation so as to avoid offense (See Rom. 14:15, 1 Cor. 8:9), and so long as the motivation is not unchristian, nor for purposes of greed, we cannot forbid it. Nor do we want to place man-made laws on our people to burden them (see 1 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 5:1).
Know that at the Last Day also those faithful Christians who have been cremated “God will bring with Him,” for they also “sleep in Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:14).
–Pastor Joel Fleischer