Cremation is the practice of disposing of a corpse by burning it to ashes. The practice has grown in popularity in recent decades, with over half of Americans now choosing cremation over traditional burial. However, cremation remains relatively uncommon among Christians, especially among more conservative denominations. This article will examine the reasons why cremation has traditionally been discouraged or prohibited in Christianity.
Religious Objections to Cremation
There are several religious grounds on which Christianity has objected to the practice of cremation. While these objections are not necessarily shared by all Christians today, they represent historical factors in Christian rejection of cremation.
The Resurrection of the Body
One of the core tenets of the Christian faith is the belief in the future resurrection of the dead. The typical Christian understanding is that at the second coming of Christ, the bodies of the dead will literally be resurrected and transformed into perfected heavenly or spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35-58). Many Christians have thus objected to cremation for interfering with God’s ability to resurrect the body. They contend that for the body to be resurrected, it must be preserved relatively intact.
Although modern theologians largely reject this view, insisting that God can resurrect a person’s body no matter how it is disposed of, the belief was once fairly common and helped fuel opposition to cremation.
Some Christians have seen cremation as an unacceptable pagan practice incompatible withbiblical teaching. In the Bible, burial was the acceptable method for disposition of corpses, including those of holy figures like Abraham, Moses, and Jesus himself. Some associate cremation with pagan religions and societies that were often opposed to early Christianity.
Although the pagan stain on cremation is often exaggerated, its association with non-Christian belief systems contributed to Christian wariness toward the practice in past centuries. However, acceptance of cremation has grown as it has become more common within Christian societies.
Without Proper Funeral Rites
For many Christians, proper funeral rituals and burial rites are an important way to honor the dead and say goodbye. Cremation has sometimes been objected to on the grounds that it deprives the deceased and mourners of these rituals. The swift disposal of the body through burning is seen as detracting from the ability to properly memorialize and find closure. This is likely one of the stronger remaining objections to cremation in Christian communities today.
Why Some Christians Now Accept Cremation
Despite this historical religious opposition to cremation within Christianity, acceptance of cremation has gradually grown among most Christian groups, for a few reasons.
No Biblical Prohibition
While the Bible clearly endorses burial over other methods like cremation, there is nothing in scripture that explicitly prohibits cremation. The choice is seen by most Christians as a matter of personal preference, not biblical command. As cremation has become more culturally accepted even within Christian societies, this has dampened active religious resistance.
Cremation is cheaper, more efficient, and takes up less land than traditional burial. This has likely contributed to its growing popularity among Christians. In a secularizing society, practical reasons like these may outweigh religious custom for many believers.
Still Honoring the Body
Many Christians now accept cremation as an acceptable means of laying a body to rest, while still allowing for a respectful memorial service and funeral rites.
As long as the funeral and remains are treated with proper dignity, cremation is not seen as greatly detracting from traditional burial. The emphasis has shifted from method of body disposal to how the deceased and mourners are honored in the process.
Less Focus on Physical Resurrection
Relatively few Christians today emphasize the importance of an intact physical body for resurrection. Most see resurrection as a spiritual event not dependent on a literal grave. With less focus on physical resurrection, objections based on interference with this belief have diminished.
Current Acceptance of Cremation Among Christians
Despite a historical aversion to cremation, most Christian denominations today either approve of cremation or take no firm stance on the issue. Here are some details on acceptance of cremation among major Christian groups:
The Catholic Church has allowed cremation since 1963, though burial is still preferred. Cremated remains must be treated with proper respect and laid to rest in the same timely manner as a traditionally buried body.
Most Eastern Orthodox churches now allow cremation, though again burial is favored. There was some initial resistance to allowing cremation in more conservative Orthodox communities.
There is wide acceptance of cremation across most Protestant denominations. More liberal and moderate Protestants support cremation as an individual’s choice, while some conservative Protestant groups retain reservations.
Jehovah’s Witnesses strongly discourage cremation, believing it dishonors the body and impedes God’s ability to resurrect the dead. However, cremation is not explicitly forbidden, leaving it to individual discretion.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)
The LDS church today has no official objection to cremation. However, its leaders have routinely discouraged cremation in favor of burial throughout its history.
Factors in Christian Acceptance of Cremation
There are a few key factors that explain why cremation has gradually become more accepted within Christianity:
Like the broader society, Christians have become less traditional and dogmatic about specific rituals like burial. Cremation fits modern sentiments about efficiency and pragmatism.
With increased environmental concern, many see cremation as preferable to burial in terms of land usage and decomposition.
Comfort with Cremation
As cremation has become more common, it seems less foreign and objectionable to Christians. Familiarity and social acceptance have normalized the practice.
Focus on Spiritual Afterlife
Christians have increasingly focused on the immortal soul’s destination in the afterlife rather than the physical body left behind. This diminishes resistance to cremation.
Denominations That Still Frown Upon Cremation
While opposition has softened, cremation remains discouraged or prohibited within some Christian groups:
- Some Lutheran synods
- Eastern Orthodox churches in Greece and Romania
- Traditionalist Catholics
There is still a preference for burial in these denominations due to religious custom, prohibitions on cremation, or conservative culture.
Statistics on Christian Cremation
Although limited data is available, surveys indicate that Christians currently choose cremation at lower rates than the general population in the United States:
|Overall US population||53.8%|
However, cremation rates vary significantly by demographics. Younger and less religious Christians are more likely to choose cremation when compared to older generations and more devout believers.
Increasing Future Acceptance
Based on rising cremation rates in recent decades, it is likely that cremation will continue gaining wider acceptance within Christianity. As it becomes the norm within Christian cultures, religious objections and taboos are fading.
However, traditional burial will remain favored by a significant minority of committed believers who adhere to historical teachings on burial and resurrection. The choice between cremation and burial is increasingly becoming a matter of personal spirituality rather than religious doctrine.
Christianity has moved from widespread opposition to cremation to qualified acceptance of the practice today. While religious objections contributed to cremation’s limited popularity in the past, practical and cultural factors have now made it a more acceptable option for Christians. Though burial remains preferred within most denominations, cremation is becoming a common choice that allows believers to honor the dead in their own way. The diversity of views on cremation highlights how Christians adapt beliefs around death and funeral customs to meet modern sensibilities while staying true to core principles of faith.