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End-of-life practices: cremation or burial?

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Q&R corner provides responses to questions that readers may have about CCMBC and its work collaborating with provincial MB conferences in areas of spiritual health and theology, leadership development, mission, and organizational health in order to achieve the overall mission: “To cultivate a community and culture of healthy disciple-making churches and ministries, faithfully joining Jesus in his mission.” If you would like to contribute a question, please send it to questions@mbchurches.ca

Please note that we will not be using your name in the MB Herald Digest in order to respect those who prefer anonymity. There may not be space to respond to every question — and sometimes we might not really have the ability or authority to respond to some questions (for example, those that relate more directly to one of our provincial MB conferences or to a local church leadership). We apologize in advance if we are unable to publish a response to your specific question.


My family has practiced both bodily and cremation burials which we felt were both God honouring and a testimony to the gospel. I have been curious about the teachings of the Scriptures in this area of end-of-life burial for believers. Also, what has been the teaching of the MB Church?”

Thanks, P., for this important question that is becoming more relevant with the explosion in popularity for cremation in Canada which now sits at about 75 percent for all deaths.1

For our MB family, the choice between burial and cremation is a “non-confessional issue” which means that it is not at a level of something being “right” and the other choice “wrong” (or one choice being “sinful”). Instead this is a wisdom and a witness question. It is in that tone of humble investigation that I will try to engage the question.

As believers, if we hope to be both God honouring and live out a testimony to the gospel, we will want to ask the following:

  • How do burial and cremation witness to our ̊ convictions related to death and the afterlife?
  • How do burial and cremation align with our convictions about creation care?
  • How do burial and cremation align with our convictions about simple living and good stewardship?
  • How do burial and cremation align with our desire to bring comfort to people experiencing grief?

When it comes to our theological convictions about death and the afterlife, we can look to our MB Confession Article 18: Christ’s Final Triumph to see a summary of what MBs believe the Bible teaches:

Since Christ destroyed the power of death by His resurrection, believers need not be afraid of death, the last enemy. Christ’s followers go to be with the Lord when they die. When Christ returns, they will be raised and receive new bodies. Believers who are alive at Christ’s coming will be transformed and will also receive new and glorious bodies, fit for life in God’s eternal kingdom.

This paragraph describes how for disciples of Jesus who have passed away, our eternal future is a two-step process. The first is that at death, believers leave their bodies and are “with” or “in” Christ (1 Thess 4:16; 1 Cor 15:18). Death cannot separate us from the “love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). While being “with” or “in” Christ does suggest that our disembodied selves are in “heaven” since that is where Christ’s throne is, this is NOT our final dwelling place. This is appropriately called the “in-between” or the “intermediate” state. Since the Bible provides few details about this state, we should be very cautious about saying more than the Bible says.2 But whatever we say, we must proclaim that this in-between state (as disembodied spiritual beings) is not our eternal home.

The next and final stage is when Jesus returns to earth in triumph. At this point, according to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the “dead in Christ” will “rise first” which seems to mean that all believers in the in-between state will return to earth to be reunited with their newly resurrected and now incorruptible bodies to “be with the Lord forever.” This actual physical but incorruptible body coming out of the grave is what the expression “resurrection of the dead” (Luke 20:35-36; Acts 4:2; cf. Matt 22:31) means. Jesus’s resurrection body was physical, spiritual, and incorruptible and Christians are promised that we will follow Jesus who is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). Jesus’ resurrection is the firstfruits that gives us confidence that we will rise just like him out of the grave (cf. v.23). Bodily resurrection when Jesus returns is our fundamental and central hope because it is with a newly resurrected body like this that believers will live in the new earth promised in Revelation 21. Bodily resurrection tells us that our body matters since it (along with our soul, mind, and spirt) will play a part in the gospel story for eternity.

So back to our question — how do burial and cremation witness to our convictions related to death and the afterlife? We must begin with our confidence that no matter what happens to our physical bodies when we die, this will not stop any believer from experiencing bodily resurrection at the return of Jesus. Disciples of Jesus who passed away in the last 2,000 years no matter how they died or what was done to their physical remains, will be resurrected at the return of Jesus. But, because of a strong belief in the resurrection of the physical body, until very recently Christians all over the world have unilaterally been committed to the burial of the body as the best expression of our convictions related to death and the afterlife. Christians in India, for example, who come out of cremation faiths, have embraced burial in order to better communicate their new resurrection hope. It is only recently that Christians have abandoned this universal practice in favour of cremation.3

It must be emphasized that cremation as a Christian option does NOT change the eternal destiny of a believer. Those Jesus disciples today who choose cremation will find God taking those ashes and miraculously recreating them into a resurrection body — just as God will take all burial remains in whatever state they are presently in and miraculously transform them and infuse them with the soul, spirit, and mind of the departed believer. The only question is whether cremation is the best vehicle to communicate to the world our resurrection hope and belief that at the funeral of a believer in Jesus, we are looking forward to not one but two stages in their future journey — and the final stage involves a resurrected physical but incorruptible body to live in the physical but incorruptible new creation.

When it comes to how burial and cremation fit into our convictions related to creation care, this is a bit of a complicated question. There is no question that putting embalmed bodies in varnished wood and/or metal caskets and lowering them into cement or plastic vaults in fields of prime agricultural land is not a long-term environmentally friendly and sustainable approach.

Cremation involves temperatures between 1,200 and 2,000 F (649-1093 C) and a carbon production of about 535 lbs of CO2.4 In addition, there can be emissions from mercury dental fillings that may or may not be scrubbed from the air at the crematorium. While cremation at its best is definitely better environmentally than burial at its worst, both options are less than ideal and both practices need improvements to be sustainable. There are possible ways to significantly lower the environmental impact of burials and cremations to the point where they are both almost negligible, but we would need to truly want to do this. Burials would need to no longer involve embalming, elaborate caskets, cement/plastic vaults, and prime land. Cremations would need to be replaced by new processes (viz., resomation [sometimes called water cremation] or cryomation [which involves freezing the body with liquid nitrogen]) that significantly reduce carbon emissions.5

Research has shown that the greatest environmental impact in terms of CO2 emissions is not from either burial or cremation but from the funeral service itself with all the guest travel, flower delivery, and so on.6 If creation care is our primary criterion, it might be less about burial or cremation, but about moving to online funerals for most of our friends and family.

When it comes to our convictions about simple living and good stewardship, how do burial and cremation compare? An obvious concern here is the high cost of burial practices today which involve embalming, expensive caskets, extra funeral home services, cemetery plots, and cemetery markers. Picking up an urn of ashes from the funeral home and placing the ashes on one’s mantle or spreading them by one’s favourite tree or stream obviously reduces these costs significantly. Making more simple choices in terms of burial costs could lessen the disparity here but is unlikely to eliminate it. While simple living and good stewardship is an obvious value for us, choosing cremation out of a desire to save money should not be our primary consideration unless we can also argue for cremation’s positive fit with our other convictions.

Finally, when it comes to our desire to bring comfort to people experiencing grief, this is a very personal and individual-specific question. For some, putting flowers onto a casket and lowering it into the ground is a very dignified and respectful process. In addition, having a gravesite with a marker to visit and putting flowers beside it can be a great comfort in the ongoing grieving process. For others, having an urn of ashes and bringing it home or spreading the ashes somewhere special for the family can also bring great comfort. When it comes to comforting people in grief, I don’t think one process is clearly better than the other.

To conclude, I thank you for your question and your desire to do what is both “God honouring and a testimony to the gospel.” I believe that your question is something that we should continue to talk about and explore as an MB family. However, it might be most significant for us to clarify our theological convictions about the two stages that are part of what Christians can look forward to after physical death. Only then can we have productive discussions about what is truly God honouring and a testimony to the gospel.

Thanks again! Blessings and Shalom in Jesus!



1 See Statista, “Cremation Rate in Canada From 2000 to 2022, With a Forecast for 2027.” Available: https://www.statista.com/statistics/916310/cremation-rate-in-canada/
2 For a description of the Bible and the “intermediate state,” see Michael Bird, “The Intermediate State: What the Bible Tells Us.” Available: https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/intermediate-state
3 For more on this, see Justin Dillehay, “Cremation or Burial: Does Our Choice Matter?” Available: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/cremation-burial-choice/
4 See Tom Harries, “Is Cremation Bad for the Environment?” Available: https://earthfuneral.com/resources/is-cremation-bad-for-environment/
5 See E.E. Keizer and H.J.G Kok, “Environmental Impact of Different Funeral Technologies.” Available: https://www.funeralnatural.net/sites/default/files/articulo/archivo/environmental_impact_of_different_funeral_technologies.pdf
6 See Jennifer Carubia, “Sustainable End-of-life Arrangements: An Overview.” Available: https://libjournals.unca.edu/ncur/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/360-Carubia.pdf

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