This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
What is the Assemblies of God’s view on death? Does the church take a position on cremation or preferred methods of burial?
Though the Assemblies of God believes strongly in God’s provision of divine healing as evidenced by the fact it is one of the cardinal doctrines of the church, we know from observation and the study of scripture that not all believers are healed when we pray for them. But the truth of physical death is also Scriptural. For the Bible which declares, "I am the Lord that healeth thee,’’ also says, "It is appointed unto men once to die" (Hebrews 9:27, KJV).
Some cults teach that people could live forever if they could only exercise the necessary measure of faith or would make a commitment to a cult leader who teaches the possibility of perpetual life in the here and now. But such teaching is contrary to Scripture.
Because physical death is a fact of life for all people including Christians, it is entirely appropriate to think about and plan for our departure from this life if God’s appointed time for death precedes Christ's return to snatch away all believers "who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:15).
It is commonly held among Assemblies of God adherents that cremation is not the ideal method of interment for the Christian. This feeling is not based on any direct command of Scripture, for there is none, but on the practice established in both the Old and New Testaments in which Christ, His saints, and the Old Testament heroes were all buried in traditional body-preserving fashion. Second, cremation originated as a practice of the pagans (people who believe in different gods, or people who don’t believe in any god). Because of its origin many have felt cremation to be anti-Christian.
It is obvious that both the Old and New Testaments look forward to a resurrection of the body. A common thought in the Christian community is that cremation does not visually show or express a belief that the body will one day be resurrected. Of course such thoughts contradict our belief in the rapture of the Church and those who are dead in Christ. Another common concern is that cremation does not treat our bodies (the temple of the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians. 6:19], created in the image of God [Genesis 1:27] ) with proper respect. Again, this thinking makes it difficult for Christians to accept cremation.
However, there are often extenuating circumstances that lead to the cremation of a believer’s body. For example: in some countries laws will not permit a body to be transported into or out of its borders without cremation. In other cases plagues and epidemics have sometimes led health authorities to enact specific regulations concerning the treatment of dead bodies. The atrocities of war have often destroyed bodies by cremation and even more degrading practices. In a number of crowded countries limited land space for burial has encouraged the use of cremation. But even if one should choose cremation apart from special circumstances, there is no biblical evidence for thinking a Christian will miss heaven because of cremation.
Within the Assemblies of God the Bible is the primary guide. God’s book speaks to the living; that all should believe, accept, and serve Christ in a manner that is pleasing to God while they are alive.
While some quickly dismiss the cremation issue as unimportant, we recognize it has caused distress and anguish to many surviving family members and friends. When differing interment procedures have been performed on a brother or sister in Christ, it has left some with the troubling question, "Will my loved one ever realize heaven?" It is here that we must rely on Scripture. Jesus’ own words concerning eternal life were, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25,26)." Romans 10:9 says, "That if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." There are no additional qualifications to salvation such as the mode of interment (see also: Romans 10:13; John 3:16-18; Mark 13:13; John 3:36; and John 6:51).
A worry voiced among some Christians is: "How will God rapture the dead when their bodies are ashes, and in some cases scattered all over the earth?" The key here is to recognize the power of God. Certainly God, who breathed the world into existence, who parted the seas, who calmed the waters, and who raised His own Son from the dead, can account for our ashes and renew them into glorified beings on resurrection day.
The rising cost of funerals and burial plots is another matter of concern. Some families with limited resources may choose cremation for a departed loved one in order to avoid the added debt that can come from burial expenses. For those with financial stability to criticize such a family demonstrates a greater concern for legalistic tradition than for the well-being of an already hurting family.
We must never put an inordinate emphasis on interment methods. One would logically assume that the complete lack of biblical instruction on burial would indicate burial methods are of little concern to God. The message of the Bible strongly indicates it is one’s personal belief and commitment to Christ in life and not the manner of burial after death that affects one’s eternal reward.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.