Burial or Cremation

“And they buried him within the borders of his inheritance, in Timnath-Cheres, in the mountains of Ephriam — on the north side of mount Ga’ash.”
(Judges 2:9)

In a day and age where the practice of cremation has become both commonplace and acceptable, it is important to be reminded of the Biblical practice of burying the body in the ground or in a cave, leaving it there intact. While burning bodies was a common practice in pagan societies, it was never introduced to the Christian world until the 1800s. In England, cremation was not legalized until 1902, largely as a result of the influence of a self-professed Druid named William Price. While American Indians had practice cremation of the dead in America for generations, the first European to be cremated in the United States was the Baron de Palm, Joseph Henry Louis Charles, who was a member of the cultic universalist group known as the Theosophical Society. When the society originally sought to cremate the body there was such an uproar by the townspeople that the cremation had to be relocated from New York to Western Pennsylvania.

Today, nearly 40 percent of bodies are cremated according to one source that I read; clearly opinions have changed. Certainly, when Jesus returns, he is quite capable of resurrecting a body from their cremated remains, just as he is able to resurrect a body that had no remains to speak of (for example, soldiers killed in bomb blasts in war). The real question is what are you communicating to the world when you incorporate historically pagan practices into the Christian life?

The Biblical practice is clearly that of preserving the body in the ground in the anticipation of a resurrection to glory (for the believer) and destruction (for the unbeliever). As a pastor, I often use the language of “keeping the body in trust” when I speak to people about burial in our church’s cemetery. Every headstone out in that graveyard serves as a reminder to the world of our anticipation of a resurrection and we look forward to that day when our Lord will return and all those graves will be emptied.

So, as we look back to Joshua’s death, we are reminded of our Biblical heritage. My prayer is that everything we do in both life and in death is done for the glory of God and with the hopes of communicating the Gospel to those who are watching you. I believe that one of the reasons that Christianity is in a more or less visible decline in the west is because Christians have oftentimes not offered a consistent and Biblical witness by life and action and have oftentimes been too quick to incorporate pagan practices into their Christian worldview…let’s not travel down that road any further than we have. And, where God gives us influence, let’s use that influence to change the road we have been on and place us on the road that honors God through his Son, Christ Jesus.

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