Christian Views on Cremation
Author: Cattie Khoury
Creative: APT Media, Inc.
Published: July 2, 2012
Cremation is no new practice. It has been around for thousands of years. However, acceptance of the practice has only recently occurred. Throughout the ages there are a multitude of beliefs held about cremation, all within the Christian community. Some beliefs are strictly biblically based while other beliefs seem to be more culturally based. No matter where the belief comes from, in Christian history the practice was completely condemned. Burial was absolutely the preferred method of disposal of bodies after death. Christians strongly believe in resurrection after death leading to an after-life. They believed that cremation hindered the body’s pathway to resurrection which is why Christian’s were so concerned with the proper method for burial. They believed that because every human was created by God, each body was made in his image. To honor their God meant they needed to honor their bodies. They saw bodies as vessels of honor because the Holy Sprit dwelt within the body. So burning a body in which the Holy Spirit dwelt within was seen as an ultimate disrespect.
This is why the belief in burial as the proper way to dispose of the body was held throughout Christian branches in these days. Even Christ himself was buried after death. Burying the dead was a staple of the Christian community for years because they found that burying the dead was a more loving way to dispose of the body, honoring both the body and God. Cremation was reserved as a form of punishment, used for criminals, or enemies. It was also used to rid those of evil. Those suffering from contagious diseases were burned to rid of the disease. For example, in Leviticus 21:9 it says that if a priest’s daughter becomes a prostitute then she “must be burned in the fire.” It is seen in this scripture that burning a body to its ashes was used as punishment and to rid of an evil. This scripture clearly shows that burning would be used as a punishment, which is why to honor a body after death they would never use cremation. Cremation as part of a funeral service was actually banned. However, this scripture referred to burning a body that was still alive. It does not talk of burning a body that had already reached death. That means that there is no conclusive biblical evidence that states that cremation should not be used as a burial method.
In fact, nowhere in the Bible does it say exactly what the proper method for burial would be after someone has already reached death. It does not say that cremation is sin or that it should not be practiced. Because of this lack of hard biblical evidence supporting the belief that cremation was nonreligious, as time changed so did the belief about cremation. Crematories began coming about in the 1800’s. The very first church in the Christian community to allow cremation was a Protestant church. While this branch of Christianity took the leap into the future, other branches were slowly dipping their toes. This was because funeral services were part of Christian tradition. It wasn’t until 1963 that cremation became “permitted” in the religion. In 1963, the Holy Office lifted the ban on cremation. However, they only approved of the practice after a traditional funeral service. In 1983, a revision in the Code of Canon Law stated that while the traditional burial service was favored, the Church did not forbid cremation under certain circumstances. Up until 1997 in the United States, remains of a cremated person were not to be brought into the church for the funeral mass. In 1997, permission was granted by the Holy See to U.S. bishops to allow the presence of cremated remains in funeral Masses.
Since 1997, there has been a larger movement for acceptance of cremation in the Christian community. The strong belief that cremation was sin wasn’t backed behind strong biblical evidence. The truth is that natural processes would eventually turn the body into ash and mineral compounds anyways. Cremation only speeds up that process. Not to mention, God is almighty and is more than capable to resurrect a person from any substance. The change in perspective on cremation throughout different religions has allowed cremation to make its presence in our culture. Currently, there are thousands of cremation services worldwide. While cremation is now accepted in Christianity, it is no secret that traditional funeral services are still preferred. Traditional funeral services are a part of the Christian culture. However, cremation is slowly making its way into that culture.
Modern Christians now view cremation as an ecological, therapeutic and economical option. Cremations cost a fraction of what traditional funeral services charge, which makes the services less materialistic. With cremation services, they are no longer confined to seeing their loved one in one particular space. Cremation saves up land usage while creating a portable grave-site. Cremation is spreading and Christians are slowly catching onto the flow. It is important for all Christians to remember that God is almighty and cremation does not stand in the way of his power nor it is against his wishes. Cremation has been around for thousands of years. The difference between now and then is that now most parts of Christianity now permit cremation in funeral masses.