Christians should prefer burial rather than cremation based on what the Bible says about the human body in relation to God and resurrection, John Piper advises.
Piper, who serves as the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minnesota and founder/teacher of DesiringGod.org, wrote in a recent blog post that he hopes Christian readers will lean toward burial instead of cremation, not as a command but rather as a preference.
"I say preferable, not commanded, in the hope that the culture created would not condemn or ostracize a person who chose differently. I encourage those who choose cremation not to equate our disapproval with ostracism. Otherwise, real disagreements are not possible among friends," Piper writes.
The pastor points to several Bible verses that discuss the glorification of the human body, and how we should treat our bodies as God's dwelling, God's purchase, God's possession, and God's glory, both in life and death.
"Glorifying God is what the body is for — in life and in death," Piper writes, pointing to Philipians 1:20.
"Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit […] Christ died to purchase us, including the purchase of our bodies, for himself […] Therefore our bodies do not belong to us to use as we please, but rather as he pleases […] Therefore, we should use our bodies to put the glory of God on display," Piper writes.
Piper then references 1 Corinthians 15:37, 42-44 as evidence that the body is destined for "resurrection glory," just as Jesus was resurrected after being in a human body here on earth.
"Burial — sowing the seed of the body — is the biblical picture of belief in the resurrection of the body," Piper writes.
Along with the importance of resurrection, the Bible also leads Christians away from cremation due to its repeated condemnation of fire as evil and damaging.
"The use of fire to consume the human body on earth was seen as a sign of contempt. It was not a glorious treatment of the body but a contemptuous one," Piper writes.
Additionally, fire is associated with hell, torture and injury, and therefore ending our lives here on earth with fire does not fall in line with biblical teaching, Piper adds.
The Minnesota pastor concludes his message with a "modest proposal," calling on Christians to "cultivate a Christian counter-culture where people expect simple, less expensive funerals and burials," as well as embrace a "God-centered, gospel-rooted burial" instead of cremation, adding that this suggestion is "rich with Christian truth that will become a clearer and clearer witness as our society becomes less and less Christian."
Late evangelical leader Chuck Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint radio who passed away in 2012, previously said that traditionally Christians have regarded cremation with "some suspicion" because in the early Church the burning of the dead was a practice used by pagans.
As published in The Christian Post, Colson said, as summarized by Eric Metaxas, "'In contrast .... Christians buried their dead. Christian teachings about Jesus' incarnation and resurrction led them to treat the human body with respect.'"
Cremation served as evidence of "'the pagan denial of Christian beliefs about the afterlife, especially the belief in the resurrection of the dead.'"