As this subject remains in recent news, we present a second article by the Rev. Dr. William Childs Robinson, mentor to many of the founding fathers of the PCA.
Your Bodies Are Temples Of The Holy Ghost:
Another Word Against Cremation
by Wm. Childs Robinson
[The Southern Presbyterian Journal 11.13 (30 July 1952): 4-5.]
In the six weeks since the former article commenting on cremation was written three times the matter has come into the writer’s purview. A very old father left instruction for his body to be cremated, and according to reports, the only son sorrowfully carried out the instructions. A middle-ages doctor passed with such instructions, but his widow disregarded them and the writer buried the body of the deceased. A phone call came to the Shenandoah Church asking that the supply pastor officiate at a funeral. The able secretary asked what was the deceased’s church connection. The reply was that the deceased had little, but some Roman Catholic attachment. Then it was added that this evidently was not strong as he wanted cremation which they did not do. The secretary replied : “Well, I don’t think Dr. Robbie will officiate for that, either.” He did not. Where this practice is developing, perhaps a wise pastor ought to arrange with such undertakers as do not cremate to give a funeral at a minimum charge to the needy, or else have a Church Burial Fund to help such.
After showing that the early Christians adopted the customs of the country when these did not clash with their own views, Lietzmann adds : “On the other hand, Christians unanimously repudiated cremation which was customary in the time of the early Empire in Rome.” Schaff writes : “The primitive Christians always showed a tender care for the dead ; under a vivid impression of the unbroken communion of saints and the future resurrection of the body in glory. For Christianity redeems the body as well as the soul and consecrates it a temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence the Greek and Roman custom of burning the corpse (crematio) was repugnant to Christian feeling and the sacredness of the body.”
When the pestilence raged in Carthage at the time of the persecution under Gallus, the heathen threw out their dead for fear of the contagion, and cursed the Christians as the supposed authors of the plague. But Cyprian assembled his congregation, and exhorted them to love their enemies. Whereupon all went to work, the rich with their money, the poor with their hands, and rested not until the dead were buried, the sick cared for, and the city saved from desolation.
Following the Jewish custom, the Christian washed the bodies of the dead, wrapped them in linen cloths, sometimes embalmed them, and then, in the presence of ministers, relatives and friends, with prayer and the singing of psalms, committed their deceased bodies as seeds of the Resurrection bodies to the bosom of the earth. Generally these burials were in sepulchral chambers with square-cornered recesses (loculi) in the walls as burial places. The corpses were wound in wrappings, without coffin, and the openings were closed with tiles of brick or marble. The Christian catacombs, as visible witnesses to the hope of the Resurrection, carried their weight with the Roman people. Indeed, even Julian the Apostate traced the rapid spread and power of Christianity to three causes : benevolence, care of the dead, and honesty.
The Christian custom was sustained by several texts from First and Second Corinthians. In opposing fornication, the Apostle wrote : “Know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, which is in you, which ye have from God? And ye are not your own ; for yet were bought with a price : glorify God therefore in your body.” In opposing inter-marriage with unbelievers he reminds the Christians : “What agreement hath a temple of god with idols? For ye are a temple of the living God.” In warning against dividing the congregation, he says : “Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy ; for the temple of God is holy, and such are ye.” In the great Resurrection chapter he finds an analogy between our sowing seed and having the seed sprout into a living body and our burying the dead body and looking for its resurrection in incorruption—glory—power—a SPIRITUAL body.
Brethren, weigh these several texts, before you exchange the Christian custom of burying or entombing the bodies that are temples of the Holy Ghost for a custom which primitive Christianity universally rejected. The graves of the saints are sanctified by Christ’s rest in the tomb; and the bodies of believers still united to Christ do rest in their graves until the resurrection.