Is It All Right To Cremate
Moderator - Good afternoon. It is good to be back with you again on WKNG radio. Today we will be talking about something that happens in everybody's life and that is death. In particular we will be talking about how we should treat the remains of a deceased loved one.
Response- Yes, that is an important topic Brother C.W. It has been said that a society is defined by how it treats its dead.
Moderator - Recently a writer said ministers should keep an open mind publicly; even though they might not approve of cremation. But privately they are free to hold any opinion they want.
Is this good advice?
Response - No, it is not. A minister must hold the faith and a good conscience, which some unfortunately concerning faith have made shipwreck. (1Timothy 1:19) A minister of the Gospel is not supposed to have a private opinion. He is supposed to only hold God's opinion. A preacher should seek to find the mind of God on a subject and follow that completely.
Moderator- This writer also said that in the Christian religion there is nothing that frowns upon cremation or requires burial." Is this true? Is cremation a matter of Christian liberty?
Response - There is nothing Christian about the practice of cremation. God's people have always practiced burial. We continue our tradition of interning the dead from the practice of the ancient Hebrews. Recently a bone box was found that was purported to be the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus. He was the half brother of our Lord by virtue of being the son of Mary and Joseph. Many people got upset about the discovery and sought to refute it because the Catholics do not like to admit that Mary ever had any other children. The finding of that ossuary, besides its plainly historical validation of the Biblical facts related to what the Bible says about the life of Christ also serves to give us information about how the Hebrews and early Christians treated the remains of their dead at that time.
Moderator - And how was that?
Response - After the body had decomposed, that is the flesh had fallen away, usually about two years after death, the remains, which consisted of bones would be placed in a bone box.
Moderator - So you are saying that cremation is not a common Christian practice?
Response - Yes, that is right. Cremation has its historical roots in heathen practices. There have been occasions when bodies were burned because of plague, or because the number of dead resulting from a battle was so immense. But these represent rare exceptions to Christian practice and belief. It is not something that we should emulate because of a few rare occurrences.
Moderator - In certain places land space is so crowded that burial plots are very expensive and in some cases there are efforts by the governments to discourage burial in preference to cremation. This problem has become acute in Singapore. What do you think about that?
Singapore is primarily a Buddhist region. They are going to handle bodies in a way consistent with their false religion. I realize that some in the Bible Presbyterian Church of Singapore has endorsed and participated in cremation ceremonies but that does not make it right there or any place else. The truth is they had a simple alternative to cremation that they could have practiced if they wanted to. They could have performed burials at sea. Or they could have built underground and high rise mausoleums. There are vast underground burying places in Rome and in Alexandria, Egypt where Christians and Jews lived. These may not be the best solutions, but they certainly are better and more biblical solutions than cremation.
There are always alternatives to cremation if people want to find them, even when the situation makes it difficult to find space for the dead. The Presbyterian compromise in Singapore I think blurs the Christian witness they might have in that region.
When we start to talk about difficulty in making burials, we have to realize that the Bible records several people having difficulty burying their dead because they had to obtain a burying place. Joseph's body was kept for several hundred years in Egypt and then carried it through 40 years of wilderness wanderings before being buried in the Promised Land. We read of this in Genesis 50:24-25; Exodus 13:19 and Joshua 24:32. It would have been simpler for the Israelites to have cremated Joseph, then carried his ashes with them in a tiny container! But this they refused to do. Joseph was a follower of the one true God, a man who looked forward to the bodily resurrection.
Recently I read about a woman of 72 who said she had always looked forward to being cremated. She was described in the article as being a religious person. But in the interview she revealed first of all that she did not want to come back in her old arthritic body. This indicated she knew nothing of the biblical teaching of the perfect body that will one day belong to the believer in Christ. Later on in the interview she disclosed that she was uncertain whether she should look forward to resurrection or reincarnation. She was a poor representative of someone to go to for an opinion on whether Christians ought to cremate or not. But, that is the kind of person the media likes to enlist to try to persuade Christians they should do the wrong thing.
Moderator – I have heard some people argue against cremation because it destroys DNA.
Response – Yes, I have heard that argument and have every reason to believe that it is probably true that cremation does destroy DNA. But we Christians should not really use that as an argument against cremation. The reason is that argument taken to its ultimate conclusion says that God is limited so that if there is no trace of DNA left he cannot find the body to resurrect and transfigure. My God is not that small.
Moderator – I have heard people argue for cremation because they say ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
Response – The Bible does not actually say “ashes to ashes.” We need to look where that saying came from. The Bible says man is created from the dust of the ground. The Bible does not say man is made from ashes. Ashes in the Bible express mourning and repentance. I think the idea comes from two passages in the Bible. The first of these is when Abraham says he has taken upon himself to speak to the Lord, then refers to himself as dust and ashes. (Genesis 18:27) He is not saying that he is literally dust and ashes, but that the mourning over the coming judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, and his daring to address God so directly, has spiritually reduced him to these two things, the basic composition of a man (dust) and the ashes of mourning. The other Scripture occurs when Job says that he has become like dust and ashes. (Job 30:19) There he has been sitting in dust and ashes as a sign of mourning for some time. Not only that, since he had been suffering physically from running sores he had likely so thoroughly covered his body with dust and ashes he literally had become like dust and ashes to anyone that looked at him.
Moderator – Was anybody in the Bible ever cremated?
Response – There is one that I remember. And, that cremation was soundly condemned by God.
In Amos 2:1 we read: "Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime" God apparently did not like it at all even when surrounding nations that had turned from Him practiced this kind of treatment of dead bodies even upon one another.
I have already made the point that Christians have always practiced burial. But in these days there is a tendency to question whether we are bound by past practices. Judge Roy Moore expressed that in the form of a question concerning whether we had learned more or became smarter than those who have gone before us? And, the answer to that question is of course no. But there is a better answer for those who question whether or not we are bound by examples in Scripture that are not direct commands. The answer is given in Romans 15:4. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning ..." And again in 1Corinthians 10:11 we read, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." In these passages God is telling us that we are to follow appropriate Bible examples as well as its direct instructions.
Passages demonstrating burial as God’s accepted method of handling dead bodies include those where:
Abraham was buried (Genesis 25:8-10)
Sarah was buried (Genesis 23:1-4)
Rachel was buried (Genesis 35:19-20)
Isaac was buried (Genesis 35:29)
Jacob was buried (Genesis 49:33; 50:1-13)
Joseph was buried (Genesis 50:26)
Joshua was buried (Joshua 24:29-30)
Eleazar was buried (Joshua 24:33)
Samuel was buried (1 Samuel 25:1)
David was buried (1 Kings 2:10)
John the Baptist was buried (Matthew 14:10-12)
Ananias and Sapphira were buried (Acts 5:5-10)
Stephen was buried (Acts 8:2)
I have very good reason to believe the mind of God on the matter is that burial is the way Christians are supposed to handle their dead.
Moderator – Dr. Ford, a lot of people were devastated by the scandal that took place with the Tri-State Crematory and Ray Brent Marsh up in Walker County.
Response- Yes, I am not sure what the final count was on the charges made against him. I know at one time there were some 339 corpses that had been discovered. Some of these were supposed to be in a state of decomposition, they called it putrefaction, which is to say they were rotting. I am not sure that all the corpses were ever finally identified.
Moderator- I also heard rumors of despicable acts that had supposedly been done to some of the corpses.
Response – You are talking about necrophilia. I do not know if that was the case, but I read that he had been found with at least one corpse in his house and some others in an exterior building. Jack Springer, the Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America, did say Ray Brent Marsh had been charged with six felony counts of abuse of a corpse in Tennessee.
People that used the Tri-State Crematory to dispose of dead relatives were described as “shocked and horrified” when they heard what had happened there. Some people have asked as a result of those events how they can prevent their loved ones from being mishandled if they opt for cremation? My thinking is that of all the things given to safeguard the way your loved ones are treated, should you choose cremation, nothing you could do makes that completely impossible.
Moderator – Still, some people see cremation as a convenient way to dispose of the dead.
Response- You nailed a significant difference in attitude between Christianity and some non-believers when you referred to dead loved ones as something to be disposed of. Even though we believe that our loved ones are no longer in the clay shell that they once inhabited, we use terms like “laid to rest” for the way we handle the remains. We have this belief that man is made in the image of God and therefore the God image should be respected both in life and in death.
Some people have pointed out that when you use cremation you do not have to maintain burial plots. I can see where some government agencies might be interested in doing away with cemeteries. I do not think they get tax money from the dead, and then you have the problem of cemeteries getting in the way of development projects and road construction. Such ideas focus on the things of the flesh and not things of the Spirit.
The Christian attitude views the burying of a loved one a little like the sowing of a seed in the ground, you see burial is the expression of our expectation of the day God will bring forth the resurrection of the dead. Yes, the buried body will decompose in time. It is our certain hope that the same individual will be raised in the same body, only transformed as a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. The physical body is called the seed for the resurrection body. When planted, a seed husk decomposes, and the new plant comes forth. The Bible uses this to illustrate resurrection: "But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain; But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. ... So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body" 1 Cor. 15:35-44
The Apostle answers those who would ask how it is possible for God to raise again a decomposed body. The terminology used by the Holy Spirit in this passage is that of husbandry-planting seed. The farmer does not destroy his seed; he plants it, then from the decaying seed comes forth the new life. Such is burial and the resurrection. When we bury a Christian loved one, we are planting the seed for the resurrection body! It is a powerful testimony of our unwavering faith in God's Word regarding the promise of bodily resurrection.
Moderator – Still there are some people who are going to favor cremation as being more hygienic, cleaner and cheaper.
Response – Yes, that would surely be some arguments alright, and I would agree that cremation might be important for the disposal of some kind of plague body or other. I have serious misgivings about the potential danger to people when they handle even an AIDS infected body. But these are exceptions and whether it is hygienic or not would be dependent upon how the smoke from the burning body was filtered; how hot the fires became, and the protective measures used by the staff.
I do not think that we should argue the average cremation is cleaner than a funeral though. If your loved one has a pacemaker, then it would have to be removed before the cremation in order to keep it from exploding. If they have had silicone breast implants, which cannot be removed, remains often stick to the melting silicone. The bone fragments that were not consumed by the fire are swept by a giant hoe like scraper into a container. Things like dental crowns and hip prosthesis have to be removed from the material left over after the burning. Everything is then ground down into small fragments. After about three hours you wind up with about six pounds of material that is compact enough to fit into a shoe box.
Moderator – That is pretty graphic. It is not something I like to think about happening to someone I love.
Response – We have not talked about the money yet. I understand that before natural gas deregulation, a body could be incinerated for about $25 cost to the crematorium operator. For this service you would pay anywhere from twelve hundred dollars on up to thousands of dollars. There is a big markup. It would not have cost Mr. Marsh very much money at all to have done what he was paid to do. I find it very difficult, apart from some evil motive or plain stupidity to understand why he did not cremate the bodies entrusted to him. He would still have been making a financial killing on the process and not have gotten into trouble. But a significant point to be made is that you can bury loved ones for not much more than it costs to cremate, if a person will just take the time to shop around. What happens is people make bad financial decisions and buy services in times of distress to their own detriment. Paying a lot for a funeral service does not really increase the dignity of the event.
Moderator – Well, no matter what we think about the situation, cremation is on the increase in the United States.
Response – Yes, I recently read some statistics for the State of Georgia that put cremation at about six thousand for every sixty thousand deaths. That is ten percent in this state. In some areas of the country I understand cremations are now getting as high as sixty percent.
One of the things that I have to say about that is much practice does not make the thing right.
Even USA Today, a truly secular paper, noted in December 1995 that the method of disposal of a body after death was a religious matter. A person’s belief determines the choices that they make.. Historically, cremation has been practiced among those, such as Hindus, who deny the bodily resurrection and who believe in reincarnation. The missionary record is, wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ has found acceptance, pagan practices such as cremation have been rejected. The increase in cremation in North American society has paralleled the wholesale rejection of the Bible in this same society. As paganism increases its hold on American hearts, cremation will become increasingly popular.
Moderator – Okay, we can see that the Christian way to treat our dead is to bury them and we can see that cremation does not represent a Christian way to treat the deceased loved ones. Now can you summarize the issue in the time we have left.
Response – Certainly. Even though cremation, as just described and practiced in the West today, shows outwardly none of the physical ghastliness witnessed in less developed nations such as when the head splits open in the expansion of hot gasses within the skull, it is nevertheless a heathen practice that has been imported into this country. You will not get a dose of the stench of burning human flesh, such as a soldier might encounter on a gruesome battle field if you attend the modern ritual of disposal of mortal remains through fire, but that does not mean those things are not present behind the door of the oven. I am not inclined to think that the mortal remains of someone I loved should have their internal organs frying and the bones popping as they are consumed by fervent heat, even though I know their soul has departed and they do not feel a thing. I cannot treat the remains of my loved ones in such a manner.
Is cremation an acceptable Christian practice? No sir, cremation is a heathen practice. It is of heathen origin and serves heathen purposes. Why do the Hindus and those of other heathen religions cremate? It is a result of their belief in reincarnation. Cremation is part of the evidence that our society is slipping into idolatrous, Christless heathenism.
The Hindus and Buddhists, for example, believe in reincarnation. Some believe in a human soul which is distinct from the body. But they do not believe that soul, once departed from the body at death, will be resurrected in any relation whatsoever to that old body. Rather they believe the soul will be reincarnated in another entirely unrelated body, or into a non-physical sphere of existence.
Those who were buried in Old Testament times were buried with knowledge of resurrection. God's people have had some knowledge of a bodily resurrection from the earliest days. The book of Job is commonly considered to be the oldest book in the Bible. It is most likely that Job was a God-fearing man who lived in the days prior to Abraham. Yet we see in Job 19:25-27 that this ancient man of God had thorough knowledge of the bodily resurrection. "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me." God's people have always buried their dead with this magnificent hope burning in their hearts. "We will see that brother or sister again in that same body, only changed, glorified!" Only through the death and shed blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can we have this certain hope. When an individual acknowledges his sinfulness before God, repents and receives Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and Savior, the sin debt is paid, and eternal life and glory is promised from God the Father. Part of the promise we have in Christ is the glorified resurrection body.
God performed a burial, when He buried Moses. (Deuteronomy 34:5,6) Throughout the Bible the destruction of a human body or of an object by fire is used as a sign of divine wrath and for a person to not have a proper burial such as with the case of Jezebel was considered dishonor. When we return a body to the dust of the ground we acknowledge our physical origin as dust and our soul as the possession of God.
Someone hearing this broadcast may have had a loved one who has been cremated and is concerned over the eternal destiny of their soul. I want to reassure them that how the body was handled after death makes no difference concerning their eternal destination. If they died as a saved person they are with the Lord. For the Bible tells us that for a believer to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. What I have been talking about is this. How we handle our dead has to do with how we express our faith in God and His resurrection through the Lord Jesus Christ.
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