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John Piper: Should Christians Cremate Their Loved Ones?

My proposal in this article is that Christian churches be willing to help families financially with simple Christ-exalting funerals and burials, so that no Christian is drawn to cremation because it’s cheaper. I’m not thinking mainly of a line-item in the budget, but of a segregated compassion-fund that church members may give to regularly or as the need arises. Grieving families could quietly approach the overseer of that fund and make it known that they have a need, and all could be handled quietly and carefully between the family and the funeral home.

At the same time, I do believe that pastors should discourage expensive funerals. In a Bible-saturated, counter-cultural church, made up of kingdom-minded sojourners and exiles (1 Peter 2:11), no one should be pressured into the mindset that the more expensive the coffin, the more loved the deceased. Pastors should lead the way in cultivating a church ethos where expensive funerals (and weddings!) are not the norm. God-centered, gospel-rooted, Christ-exalting simplicity should be the norm.

How many evangelicals would choose cremation if it cost as much or more than a simple, traditional service of burial? Very few. There has been a skyrocketing preference for cremation over the past decades in the United States (1960—3.5 percent; 1999—24.8 percent; 2014—46.7 percent; in some states it is over 75 percent). There are various causes, but the greatest, by far, is the combination of secularization and economics. Fewer people test the practice with biblical criteria, and more people want the cheapest solution.

So my aim here is to touch on both of those causes. First, I am proposing that churches cultivate a Christian counter-culture where people expect simple, less expensive funerals, and where we all pitch in so that every church member can afford such a funeral. Second, I want to give biblical pointers for why burial is preferable to cremation. 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.

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John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. John is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at DesiringGod.org. © Desiring God.