Burial Plots

Christian Tradition Is a Subversive Witness Against Modern Funeral Practices

What we do with the dead means something. And until relatively recently, the Church’s burial practices and their accompanying rationale made that clear. Theologian and historian Alvin Schmidt explains in Cremation, Embalmment, or Neither? (2015) that “Christians from their earliest years in Rome opposed and rejected cremation and continued to do so throughout the Western world for nearly two thousand years.” Not only that, they “consistently buried their dead without embalming them.” Francis Schaeffer was quicker to the punch in his classic How Should We Then Live? (1976): “the Romans burned their dead, the Christians buried theirs.” Burial was a distinctive marker of the Christian hope, and one that is deeply needed in our day.

However, in place of this meaningful church practice rooted in biblical revelation, which provides us with rituals and structures for processing death faithfully, we find ourselves grasping for meaning as such practices are increasingly jettisoned. Both inside and outside the Church, cemeteries are dead. Traditional burials are on the decline—Christian practices are what get buried now, while bodies are burned.

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Joshua Pauling taught high-school history for thirteen years and is now a classical educator. He is head elder at All Saints Lutheran Church (LCMS) in North Carolina, has studied at Messiah College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Winthrop University, and has written for Areo, FORMA, Front Porch Republic, Mere Orthodoxy, Modern Reformation, Public Discourse, Salvo, Quillette, and The Imaginative Conservative.

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