Burning Questions on the Issue of Cremation – A follow-up to “A Scriptural Defense of Cremation”

The previous article, “A Scriptural Defense of Cremation”, stirred many excellent comments and questions. Since many of the same questions were asked many times, it seemed like a good idea to take a close look at them in response. The following questions are a compilation of the similar type questions:

Question 1 – What is wrong with cremation since God is all-powerful and could do anything He wants to do? You are limiting God! He could resurrect ashes just as easily as he could bones. What about people who die in fires or airplane crashes? Are you saying they can’t be saved because they were burned up?

Response 1 – I would absolutely agree that God is not limited. He can do whatever He thinks best. The issue is not about what God can do. The issue is about our choices. Clearly, people who are burned up in tragic accidents did not make that choice and our God is perfectly able to resurrect them. That is not the issue. With cremation, we are making a decision that is not found in the Bible or in the entire history of Christianity until the 20th century. How could it now be okay for Christians? “Everyone is doing it” is not an appropriate answer to that question unless we really want to open up “Pandora’s box” within Christianity.

Some people say that because God is able to resurrect ashes, He gives us permission to be cremated. This is a very flawed argument, especially since cremation is not supported by the Bible or historical Christianity in any way. It would be along the same lines as the argument St. Paul provides in Romans 5 and 6. He writes that “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. What shall we say then? Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” (Roman 5:20-6:2)

 

Again, the “doctrine” of cremation is not about what God can do. It is solely about our decision making. Who are we to decide that it is okay with God to burn up a human body? Remember that when God created human beings He said: “It is very good!” (Genesis 1:31) Remember that we are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). Remember that if you are “in Christ,” your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and, in the next verse, we are told to “honor God with your body!” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)  Could deciding to burn up your body truly honor God?

God does have guidelines for us as to how we should live, worship, etc. These have been in place over the centuries. Historically, the Christian Church buried folks because of the belief in the bodily resurrection. The Old Testament has a passage entitled: The Valley of Dry Bones (note that it is not the “Valley of Ashes”). It is found in Ezekiel 37:1-14. Listen to these words from verses 4-6: “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’” At the end of that passage, God even clarifies further in verses 13-14: “Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live!”

One final thought on why we bury the body and do not cremate it. Again, looking at the Bible, consider this from 1 Thessalonians 5:23:  “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!”  It really is a package deal! The body is not some separate entity that we can simply burn up as a useless piece of garbage. It is important to God and it should be important to each of His children.

Question 2 – I don’t get it. If there is nothing left of your body after decay, why would it matter whether you are buried or cremated? After all, the disposal of a soulless, lifeless body has nothing to do with the Bible anyway.

Response 2 – I would totally disagree with that last statement. The Bible has to do with all of life and death. One cannot hold to a “doctrine” of cremation and simply ignore everything the Bible has to say about the human body in death. To call a human body that has died “soulless” is a total misunderstanding of the Bible and the Christian Faith that has been followed for almost 2000 years now.

There are many, many things we “don’t get” in the Christian Faith and that is actually a very good thing. When it comes to the body being buried, St. Paul explains some of this to us in 1 Corinthians 15. He compares our bodily burial to a seed (verses 36-38):  “But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.” I love this comparison since I like planting flowers. If I look closely at a marigold seed and then plant it in the ground, what comes up looks absolutely nothing like that seed. St. Paul is saying that about our bodies. We have no idea what our glorified body will look like. That is truly something we “don’t get” in this amazing Faith.

St. Paul goes on to say (verses 42-44):  “So also is the resurrection of the dead. “The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.  It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.  It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”  St. Paul finishes up with this amazing word for us (verse 52): “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”  Our body is sown; not ashes, but our body. Just like the seed, we will plant a natural body and we will receive a spiritual body. The body that is raised will be incorruptible. Again, this is way beyond our understanding.

Question 3 – But Father, it is cheaper to have the body cremated, so why shouldn’t we save our loved ones some money? I’m afraid financial considerations have become the single criterion for most of us and having a settled, faithful opinion about cremation isn’t even in our sights.

Response 3 – Please, please look into the price of a burial done without embalming and with a simple casket. Caskets can be ordered from many Orthodox Christian sources at a very low price compared to some of the expensive models out there. You will find that financial considerations will no longer be the driving force.

One of the reasons for writing the first article, “A Scriptural Defense of Cremation”, was that the non-Scriptural basis of cremation was not “in the sights” of far too many Christians. It is hoped that readers will understand that the Bible does not support cremation in any way whatsoever. Christians who tell me they do their best to live according to the Bible should be questioning where this doctrine of cremation crept into Christianity. It was never held by our Christian Faith until well into the 20th century. This also should raise concerns.

Lastly, Christians should never allow money to guide theology. Make no mistake about this issue being about theology. It has everything to do with our beliefs regarding who we are as Christians, what happens to us at death, and what takes place at the resurrection of the dead.

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A Scriptural Defense of Cremation

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In the town where I live, funerals have become rather rare. I hear this is true throughout our country. People now have a “Celebration of Life” with lots of pictures of the deceased person and sometimes a cremation urn will be present. Cremation has become the norm for most Christians in our country. It has replaced the funeral and the burial of the body of the deceased.

This has occurred with almost no debate about the issue of cremation. It has become an accepted doctrine of most Protestant groups (It also is fully accepted by the Roman Catholic Church). Almost every Protestant statement of faith begins with something like this:

“The Bible is the inspired Word of God, free from error, and is therefore the final authoritative guide for faith and conduct.”

Putting this in simpler terms, most Protestants would simply say that they stand on the Word of God alone. With that as a foundation, here then is a defense of cremation taken only from the Bible.

First, since cremation is the burning up of the body, let us consider some of the verses dealing with the burning of bodies in the Bible. As you will see, the Bible is filled with great examples:

  • Genesis 19 – God burned up the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • Leviticus 10 – God burned up Nadab and Abihu.
  • Leviticus 20:14 – A man who marries both a woman and her mother should be burned with fire.
  • Leviticus 21:9 – The daughter of a priest who becomes a prostitute should be burned fire.
  • Numbers 11 – God burned up some people for complaining against Him.
  • Numbers 16 – God burned up 250 men with Korah who rebelled against Moses.
  • Deuteronomy 12:29-31 – Nearby nations were burning their sons and daughters in the fire as a sacrifice to their gods. God forbid His people from doing this, but it does show that others were doing it. Haven’t you heard: “Everyone is doing it!”
  • Deuteronomy 18:10 – Even though God forbids His people, again we find that entire nations were sacrificing their sons and daughters in the fire.
  • Joshua 7:25 – Joshua had Achan and all his family stoned and then burned them up because of the sin Achan had committed.
  • Judges 9 – Abimelech burned up about 1,000 men and women in the tower of Shechem (Things didn’t go well for Abimelech right after that).
  • Judges 15:6 – The Philistines burned up Samson’s wife and her father.
  • 1 Kings 16:18 – Zimri burned up himself after things went bad for him.
  • 2 Kings 1 – The prophet Elijah called down fire and burned up the captains and their 50 soldiers (This happened two times).
  • 2 Kings 16 – King Ahaz cremated his own son (It was an abomination to God, but it was done).
  • 2 Kings 17 – The children of Israel were burning up their sons and daughters as offerings to other gods.
  • 2 Kings 21 – King Manasseh cremated his own son (It was an abomination to God, but it was done).

This brings us to the Major and Minor Prophets of the Bible who did mention cremation quite a few times, but since it was all in a rather negative light, we will not cite each passage. So let’s move on to the New Testament:

  • Matthew 18:41-42 – Jesus actually mentions casting people into the furnace of fire (which sounds like a crematorium).
  • Matthew 25:41 – Jesus does speak of an everlasting fire which certain ones will be cast into.
  • Mark 9 – Several times, Jesus mentions a fire that never goes out that some could be thrown into.
  • Luke 12:49 – Jesus said that He came to send fire on the earth. This may not be an actual reference to cremation, but could be used out of context.
  • John 15:6 – Jesus talks about throwing those who do not abide in Him into the fire to be burned up.
  • 1 Corinthians 3 – Our works will be tested by fire. Could this be a reference to cremation? Rats, that passage is about the Church, not individuals.
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 – The Lord will take vengeance with flaming fire on the disobedient.
  • Hebrews 12:29 – A very strong witness for cremation: “Our God is a consuming fire.”
  • 1 Peter 1:7 – Our faith will be tested by fire (compare with 1 Corinthians 3 above for the continuing debate regarding works vs faith).
  • 2 Peter 3:12 – In the end, looks like everything gets cremated anyway.
  • Jude – More thoughts on the vengeance of eternal fire.
  • Revelation – Almost every chapter has something in it about fire. Suffice it to say, there will be some kind of everlasting cremation going on.

“If the Bible says it, it is good enough for me!” Clearly, the Bible shows that that even God practiced cremation. Some of the Kings in the Bible practiced cremation. The nations mentioned in the Bible often practiced cremation. Furthermore, the Bible points out that there is actually some sort of eternal cremation available.

But wait, these are all rather negative references toward the practice of cremation. In fact, I honestly couldn’t find one verse in which God blessed the practice of cremation. Perhaps we should take a different approach to the Biblical concept of cremation.

WWJD – “What Would Jesus Do?” This phrase has certainly impacted the Christian world and perhaps we can use it to look at this widely accepted doctrine of cremation.

The greatest miracle in the ministry of Jesus occurred with the person of Lazarus. He had been dead for 4 days when Jesus raised him from the dead. Oops, my mistake, if Lazarus had been cremated, that wouldn’t have occurred.

Jesus Himself died. Hmmm…He wasn’t cremated either. If fact, when He rose from the dead, he did have a body, ate food, and insisted on being touched. Bummer, that won’t work either.

Instead of that, what about taking a look at what St. Paul taught. He wrote a lot of stuff in the New Testament. He talked pretty seriously about death in 1 Corinthians. Let’s take a quick look at chapter 15. In discussing the resurrection from the dead (which we are all interested in), he only talks about the body. He speaks of the body as if it were a seed planted in the ground which will eventually be raised. Earlier in chapter 6, St. Paul talks about our bodies actually being the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Hmmm, there is no mention of cremation by St. Paul. But, a fair question to ask at this point is: “Doesn’t the Holy Spirit simply leave the body of a believer after death?”

There is one passage of the Bible does come to mind regarding that question. In 2 Kings 13:20, we are told that the prophet Elisha died and was buried.  Well, let’s let the Bible speak for itself here:

“Then Elisha died, and they buried him. And the raiding bands from Moab invaded the land in the spring of the year. So it was, as they were burying a man, that suddenly they spied a band of raiders; and they put the man in the tomb of Elisha; and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.”

The bones of Elisha still contained the Holy Spirit so that a dead man was brought back to life. Wow, if he had been cremated and his ashes scattered over the Jordan River, that miracle would have never taken place.

I confess to you the reader that I have failed miserably in giving a Scriptural defense for the practice of cremation. That does raise the question about why so many Christians are practicing something that is actually condemned in the Bible if they truly believe in their statement of faith:  “The Bible is the inspired Word of God, free from error, and is therefore the final authoritative guide for faith and conduct.”

What is guiding this doctrine of cremation? Please don’t tell me: “Everyone is doing it!”

The Journey

The man would have easily sold his soul to the devil to get ahead in this world, to make a name for himself, to be somebody very important.  Thankfully, he didn’t need to sell his soul to the devil because he had determined years ago that the devil didn’t exist.  It wasn’t actually the existence of the devil that he had ruled out; it was the existence of God.  Somewhat consciously and mostly sub-consciously, he had decided that God’s existence would really get in the way of his life.  If God existed, then he would be expected to live under a certain code of moral ethics.  If there was no God, then he could live his life in whatever manner he chose.  So it was that the non-existence of God slowly evolved in his life until he had convinced himself that there simply was no God.  And if there was no God, then there absolutely would not be a devil.  With that foundation to guide his thinking, it never even crossed his mind to sell his soul.  After all, to whom would he sell it?

The man had never questioned his reasoning in this matter of the non-existence of God.  He had learned early in his life that his conclusions were the only conclusions that really mattered.  Learned is perhaps the wrong word to use because it wasn’t a concept that he had been taught by any individual.  It was simply a way of thinking that everyone around him held.  It wasn’t necessarily talked about, it just was.  It was the foundation of most everything and everyone in his life.  It was the unspoken, guiding principle that seemed to be at the heart of everyone he knew, both those he respected and those to whom he felt superior.  Once he had determined that something was true or not true, then that matter was settled.  That there could be any kind of absolute truth that was contrary to his thinking was certainly not in the realm of possibility. Absolute truth did not really exist, unless his conclusions were to be called absolute truth.  And in all honesty, he lived and spoke as if that were the case.  So it was that this concept of truth slowly evolved in his life until he had convinced himself that there simply was no truth beyond what he determined to be the truth.  Again, somewhat consciously and mostly sub-consciously, he had embraced this life guiding concept that whatever he believed to be true was true.  If his thought process had taken him to the truth, then he certainly didn’t need to question his reasoning in this matter of the non-existence of God.  After all, with whom would he question it?

The man didn’t take this matter of truth lightly.  His mind was constantly looking for support for his conclusions.  He found this support literally everywhere.  Sometimes it was in a casual conversation when someone would say something that he could log away in that mental file that made his truths even more absolute.  The same thing happened when he read a book or newspaper.  Minute pieces of information were constantly being added to his thought process for his various conclusions.  He very seldom actually searched for this support.  His mind was just waiting to embrace it whenever it crossed his path.  It seems his mind had this wonderful ability to filter things that supported his thinking from things that might possibly weaken or question his conclusions.  The only time he felt the need to search out for more support was when the mind failed to adequately filter some facts.  But he had sources that he could go to that would always support his thinking and put the matter to rest.  Somewhat consciously and mostly sub-consciously, his confidence in his absolute truths grew daily and he found himself emboldened to gladly pass these truths on to others.  If the facts constantly proved him right, then he was the holder of the truth.   After all, who could possibly disagree with any truth that had so much support?

The man slowly began to realize his superiority to other human beings, especially those who disagreed with him in any matter.  He was the holder of truth itself.  This realization took much time.  After all, there were so many issues that he had to think through and decide upon for himself.  Over time he had come to so many truths, covering so many issues, that he arrived at the point where he no longer needed to think through a matter…he simply knew what was the truth.  Everyone else held opinions on issues, but if they disagreed with him, he would simply smile at their ignorance.  Again, somewhat consciously and mostly sub-consciously, he found his superiority to other human beings was so very great that no longer cared about their opinions on anything other than their praise of him.  The epiphany of this journey was the realization that he was not simply the holder of truth, but the holder of absolute truth.   And the logical conclusion to this truth became obvious to him:  The holder of absolute truth had to be God and therefore, he had become God!  After all, who could be the holder of absolute truth except for God?

The man at first rejected this idea that he was God, but everything pointed to that fact as the only possible conclusion.  It became for him the ultimate truth and for a time he was very happy with it.  It explained his obvious superiority to everyone around him and it cemented once and for all the fact that his conclusions were the only ones that really mattered.  His ponderings took on greater depths as he realized his responsibility to explain the deeper matters to those around him.  Inevitably, he was forced to consider why there were so many lies.  Absolute truth means that any variance from that would have to be a lie. This was something he had never really wrestled with before, but it was something he had to figure out.  After all, others had to know the truth of this matter.  He weighed out all the various options and didn’t really like any of them.  He became rather obsessed with the existence of lies.   Whether it was somewhat consciously or mostly sub-consciously, he couldn’t really say, but he wrestled with it day and night.  Until the truth finally came to him:  Since he was God and was the holder of all absolute truth; there had to be another who was the holder of all lies.  After all, how could others ever disagree with his infallible arguments, except when they listen to the one who holds all of the absolute lies?

The man was stunned by his own conclusion and yet there could be no other logical explanation of the existence of lies.  His ability to know absolute truth and his desire to spread it to everyone left him with no other options when it came to the existence of lies.  Just as truth was absolute so lies were also absolute.  He looked at the evil taking place in this world and realized that lies were the very foundation of their existence.  Absolute lies were the very things that led to the existence of evil in this world.  The holder of absolute lies was also the holder of absolute evil.  Mostly consciously and somewhat sub-consciously, he began to wrestle with the issue of absolute evil.  He actually fought hard against the obvious conclusion that he would have to come to:  there had to be one who was the opposite of him and who, with the same zeal, spread his absolute lies to everyone.  There is only one who could possibly be the opposite of God.  There was no other choice.  The absolute truth he had arrived at was that the devil was the holder of absolute lies.  After all, wasn’t his very existence as the holder of absolute truth dependent on the existence of the holder of absolute lies? Who else could that be except the devil?

The man was beside himself.  If absolute evil existed, then absolute good must also exist.  The holder of absolute good must also be the holder of absolute truth.  This realization shattered the very foundation upon which he had built his entire life.  He knew that he had done evil in his life.  Totally conscious and with no sub-conscious thought, he realized that he could not possibly be the holder of absolute good.  And if he was not the holder of absolute good, then he could not be the holder of absolute truth.  The holder of absolute good and absolute truth was one in that same and it could be no other than God.  If he was not the holder of absolute truth, then he had believed a lie.  And if he had believed a lie, could it be possible…could he have sold his soul to the devil to get ahead in this world, to make a name for himself, to be somebody very important?

Standing on the Word of God Alone?

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Most Christians in our world today really have no idea where the New Testament came from or how it came to be known as Holy Scripture.  Most folks don’t even ask that question, they simply refer to it as God’s Word and they loudly proclaim that they “stand on the Word of God alone.”  That phrase comes from the one of the battle cries of the Reformers of the 16th Century: “Sola Scriptura!”  If one reads the statement of Faith of many of the Christian Churches today, often the first thing mentioned has something to do with this concept of “Sola Scriptura.”

Standing on the Word of God alone can sound like the right thing to do.  In fact, who could argue against such an ideal?  The problem that immediately arose and continues to plague Christendom since the 16th Century is not the Holy Scriptures being God’s Word.  The problem is with the interpretation of that Word.  On one intersection there can be 4 different Christian Churches all proclaiming that they stand on the Word of God alone:  “Sola Scriptura” they will shout.  Sadly, each of them will be in serious disagreement with the others on matters of very important beliefs, doctrines, and practices.

In today’s world, some have estimated there are now over 60,000 different schisms within Christendom…looking very much like a shattered mirror.  People may shout “Sola Scriptura” but the truth of the matter is that they are really proclaiming “Sola Interpretation!”  The Holy Scriptures are not to blame.  It comes down to the interpretation of those Holy Scriptures.  Many Churches spring up every day because someone decided that the Bible says something different than what the Church they are currently in believes.  The picture of Christianity begins to sound much like the last verse in the Book of Judges:  “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”  That didn’t work out at all in the Book of Judges and it certainly isn’t working out in today’s world with the interpretation of the Bible.

An understanding of where the New Testament came from is really foundational to how we interpret it today.  It didn’t simply fall from the sky one day.  The extent of the Canon of the New Testament is not a matter of Direct Revelation…God didn’t write the list on the wall!!!  Here is a very brief summary of what happened in history to bring us the Canon of the New Testament.

For the first hundred years or so of the Christian faith, documents like the letters written by Paul and the four writings about the life of Jesus, which we call “the Gospels”, had been circulated and copied throughout the Churches for use in teaching. Very quickly, these documents came to be regarded as Holy Scripture, of equal importance (or more, in the eyes of some) as the Jewish scriptures, which are referred to today as the Old Testament.

Around 140 A.D. (Over 100 years after Jesus’ death and His Glorious Resurrection), a man named Marcion began teaching a version of Christianity which viewed the God of the Old Testament as a wrathful God incompatible with the loving God of the New Testament.  He therefore rejected the theology of the Old Testament. To support his teachings, Marcion published a canon – a list of documents which he considered to be Holy Scripture – which included only an edited version of the Gospel of Luke and 10 of Paul’s letters (along with his own writings). This brought to light the need for a consistent understanding in the Church of what documents (or books) were indeed Canonical (i.e. accepted as Holy Scripture).  It is important to note that Marcion did not actually start this process of forming the canon, rather the controversy he started simply accelerated an already existing process.

At the time of Marcion, two sets of documents had already been assembled and circulated among the Churches. The first set was called the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The second set was the collection of the letters by the Apostle Paul.  Both sets were quoted as Scripture by Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, around 115 A.D.  They had no doubt been in circulation for quite some years before that date. A collection of other letters,  those of Peter, John, James, and Jude –along with the Acts of the Apostles (which had been separated from the Gospel of Luke), were eventually included.

By 200 A.D., the majority of the New Testament was established.  A document called the “Muratorian Fragment” refers to Luke as the third Gospel (assumedly listing Matthew and Mark before it), then lists John, Paul’s 13 letters, Jude, two epistles of John and the Book of Revelation as Holy Scripture.  In the early 300’s, Origen lists the four Gospels, Paul’s 13 letters, one letter each of Peter and John, and Revelation. He also notes that Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James, and Jude, amongst other documents were debated by some. Around that same time, Eusebius lists all of the New Testament documents except James, Jude, Peter’s second letter and John’s second and third letters, which he says are disputed by some, but recognized by the majority.

In 367, Athanasius is the first to list the 27 documents of the New Testament as we know it today, and he is quickly followed by Jerome and Augustine in the church in Europe. At the councils of Hippo Regius in 393 and Carthage in 397, the Church in the west as a body approved the 27 documents alone as Holy Scripture. The process farther east took a little longer; it was not until 508 that 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation were included in a version of the Syriac Bible in addition to the other twenty two books.

All of that history is important because it reveals to us that the Holy Scriptures did not give us the Church.  The Church was established by Jesus Himself and that Church, over the next 300-500 years, identified those 27 Books of the New Testament that we have today.  Indeed, it is the Church that gave us the New Testament!  That is worth repeating:  It is the Church that gave us the New Testament!

It is this same Church which also handed down the correct interpretation of that New Testament.   Seven times the Church had to come together in what is called an Ecumenical Council.  These Seven Ecumenical Councils came together because of the great heresies which were attacking the Church. Often these attacks were not simply debates, but the heretics were actually torturing and killing those who held firm to the Truth. True Christians shed their blood to hand down the correct interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, as it had been handed down to them from the beginning.

These Councils did not come up with some new doctrines but they only sought to identify that which had always been believed…that which was handed down from Christ to His Apostles, then to their disciples, and then to each generation.  These Councils took seriously the words of Jude 3:  “Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”  Today, the cry goes out to all of Christendom to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints”… not some new doctrines that sound nice…but what has always been believed and taught from the beginning.

“Sola Scriptura” or “Sola Interpretation” was never a part of Christianity until the 16th Century.  Truth was never some subjective thing that changed with every breeze that drifted through Christianity.  The Bible is God’s Word and the interpretation of it has been handed down from the beginning of the Church.  If someone comes up with a new interpretation in the 21st Century, we should run…not walk…away from them.  There is no new truth…the Truth has not changed for almost 2000 years.  May we seek it out and walk in it alone:  ”Sola Truth”…which has been handed down and is available to each of us.

Living in a Post Christian Era—NOT!

Living in a Post Christian Era—NOT!

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Over the past few years the media has been asserting as “fact” that we are living in a post-Christian era. Christianity has had its day and it is over. What is so very disturbing is that some Christian clergy and laity have been saying the same thing. If something is said often enough, does it really become fact?

How many times has the world proclaimed the end of Christianity? It was proclaimed right after the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus Himself. That of course didn’t last long, three short days in fact. When Constantinople was attacked by Muslim forces and defeated, don’t you know that many folks thought that was the end of Christianity. Marx and Lenin thought they had ended Christianity with the Communist takeover of Russia. Today, Christianity is proclaimed loud and clear in that country.

Much of the world today is embracing the “religion” of secularism. It is this movement that seems to shout the loudest that Christianity is over. They may believe that with all their hearts, but so have others throughout history. The secular movement will eventually crash and people will be looking again for some meaning to their lives. The only real meaning to life is found in Jesus Christ and that will never go away.

Brothers and sisters, we are not a part of a dying religion. We belong to the Living Lord and to His Living Church. Remember His words from the Gospel of Matthew:  “I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  If the very gates of hell cannot prevail against His Church, why would members of that Church tremble at the rantings of mere men and their meaningless philosophy?

Throughout history the Church has survived persecutions, martyrdoms, heresies, and false philosophies. Over the past 2,000 years all of these things come and go on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes they last for a few centuries, but they do end. True Christianity will be here long after the secularist movement has become a note in a history book.

Indeed, the Church will be here to offer solace to shattered lives and to bring meaning to lives that have lost hope through meaningless philosophies. It is the calling of all Orthodox Christians to carry the Faith to the next generation and not to get caught up with the proclamations of this world. A good thing for us to keep in mind comes from Hebrews 13: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Do not be carried away with various and strange doctrines.” 

If you become concerned about us living in a Post-Christian Era, remember that word “forever” from our Lord. He is not leaving us nor is He going to change. He alone remains the same and He will still be transforming lives long after this secularist movement has crashed. In fact, He will welcome with open arms all of those who rejected Him for the pleasures of this world. One day there will be many “prodigal sons and daughters” coming home to the Father. That home is the Living Church of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

What If?

WHAT IF? question-mark-2

What if you hadn’t lost your temper last week?  What if you hadn’t told that lie?  What if you had  taken that other job?  What if you had married that other person?  What if you hadn’t quit the high school football team?  What if you had just gotten that one break you needed?  What if you had finished college?  What if ____ (you fill in the blank).

How many times do all of us relive certain past events, saying: “What if I had done that differently?”  Sometimes we daydream about how good life would be if things had gone differently.  Sometimes we try to make wrong things right, finding a “loop-hole” so that we can justify our actions.  There is the very real danger for many of us that we do it so much, we become consumed with the past.

Think about “What ifs”for a moment.  “What ifs” are always the beginning of a false story.  We have our story, our life.  I didn’t become the shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  No matter how much I “What if” the past, I will never be that shortstop.  That is not my story!!  That “What if” seems innocent enough, but it can lead to dissatisfaction with my life.  I can end up blaming my “failure” to reach the Big Leagues on others, like my wife or my children.  My real story can end up being trashed by a false story.

There is a great quote from C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian (from the Chronicles of Narnia) when Lucy is confronted by the lion, Aslan (who represents Jesus), because she didn’t obey him. First she tries to justify her actions and then she asks about what would have been had she obeyed him. Alsan answers her: “To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“What ifs” can seem innocent, but they are always false and they will cause us problems as we chew on them.  “What if I had married that other person” will not help my marriage!  It is not my story!  “What if I hadn’t gotten divorced” will not change the divorce!  It is not my story!  “What if I had never had a baby” will not help me raise my children!  No matter the “What if”, we will never know what might have happened and the false story will likely do us harm.

The Holy Scriptures advise us: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward…let us live up to what we have already attained” (Philippians 3:13-16).  God is saying: “Don’t ‘What if’ me with the past, but press on toward tomorrow with who you are today.”

All of us are in a place right now that our past decisions have put us in.  We can questions those decisions for the next 10 years (beating ourselves over the head with “What ifs”) or we can see where we are right now and press on toward the future that will eventually be “our story”!  Sometimes we will need to forgive others or seek forgiveness from God and others, but then we need to forget it and get on to what will become “our story”.  Going back to Prince Caspian, Alsan tells Lucy that “anyone can find out what will happen” if they just begin obeying Him now. May the Lord bless your “real story” each and every day!!

Saint Anthony: How Is Your Soul Today?

                                        Saint Anthony: How Is Your Soul Today?

Today, January 17th, the Orthodox Church always remembers the life of Saint Anthony the Great. He was born in 251 and lived a remarkable 105 years. His life was so amazing that he is known as “The Father of all Monastics.” The book on his life was written by St. Athanasius who actually knew Anthony.

anthony-the-great

As we celebrate the memory of the life of Saint Anthony, this UpWord Glance concerns some simple quotes from him:

“If we make every effort to avoid death of the body, still more should it be our endeavor to avoid death of the soul. There is no obstacle for a man who wants to be saved other than negligence and laziness of soul.”

Please ponder these words of St. Anthony and then consider the priorities we have set in our lives. Human beings are complex indeed. We have a physical body, a mind that thinks and reasons (perhaps too much at times), and we have a soul. So then…

  • How much of our lives do we spend on improving our bodies through exercise and proper diet?
  • How much of our lives have we spent on improving our intellect?
  • And finally, how much of our lives have we spent on our souls and matters of eternity?

Here’s another quote from St. Anthony concerning our need to be concerned about our souls:

“Men are often called intelligent wrongly. Intelligent men are not those who have great knowledge of the sayings and books of the wise men of old, but those who have an intelligent soul and can discriminate between good and evil. They avoid what is sinful and harms the soul; and with deep gratitude to God they resolutely adhere by dint of practice to what is good and benefits the soul. These men alone should truly be called intelligent.”

Recently, I was speaking with someone about sin and the person was complaining how easily they ran after certain sins. I explained to them that sin was usually pleasurable and that we enjoy it greatly at the moment. It isn’t until later that we realize what harm it has done to our souls. It is when we recognize this truth that we can actually begin to purposely avoid these things. These sins can be very small or they can be gigantic in nature. Either way, they should be avoided. This, Saint Anthony would say, is true intellect…to be concerned for our souls. So then, how do we care for our souls? Saint Anthony said this:

“The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and to conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the direction and depth of His providential ordering of all things. For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His  providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.”

Is it humanly possible to actually give thanks to God for all that we encounter in each day? Obviously, Saint Anthony though it possible and actually put it into practice as a way to care for the soul. We can indeed begin caring for our souls each and every day. It can begin with our prayers. Here is a simple prayer to begin each day (The Morning Prayer of St. Philaret):

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace.  Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will.  In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me.  Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings.  In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You.  Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring.  Direct my will; teach me to pray; pray Yourself in me.  Amen.

If you have never read The Life of Saint Anthony, it would be well worth your time. There are good copies online and books for sale at most great reads type bookstores. You can read a very nice copy it for free at: http://www.orthodoxebooks.org/node/213

The Invisible Church: A Doctrine That Has Come of Age

The Invisible Church: A Doctrine That Has Come of Age

By Fr. Stephen 

praying-hands

Have you been around people who proclaim a faith in Christ, yet totally reject the idea of Church? It seems to be a growing belief among folks in our country. It really has its beginnings with a doctrine that came out of the Reformation: “The Invisible Body of Believers.”

The Reformation began with some noble ideas to get the Roman Catholic Church back on the right track with some beliefs the Reformers thought had gone astray. What began as a desire to correct led to a full scale “protest” and a breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church.

Alas, the Reformers couldn’t agree on what doctrines were correct and so the “protest” carried on against each other. As group after group began to separate themselves from other groups, the divisions began to take on the look of a shattered mirror.

As these groups (which became known as denominations) multiplied, they also called themselves by the name: “church”. The shattered mirror sadly continued to grow as more and more splinters took place. Each splinter group believed differently than the one the left behind. So it was that the number of differing “churches” grew enormous with people having friends and family in differing belief systems.

Each group proclaimed loudly that they used only the Bible to prove their beliefs. But, in fact it was their interpretation of the Bible that was really at the core of their differences. Each group believed they were the ones that held to the “Truth” and that the other groups were in error. Some of them simply condemned others and said those who didn’t hold to their beliefs would wind up in hell. Whew…that was a pretty serious belief!

The majority, though differing in beliefs, sought to find a belief that would unite the various groups. Thus was born the doctrine of the “Invisible Body of Believers”. Anyone who believed that Jesus is Lord would be a member. Differences in doctrine were given second place to this wonderful belief. People in differing groups could now be close friends and joint services could be held where doctrinal proclamations would be limited to just “Jesus is Lord.” This became the most important belief that anyone could hold and it was thought to be the doctrine that united all believers together.

Thus was born the concept of the “Invisible Body of Believers” where it was irrelevant which church one attended. The Lordship of Jesus was the key to belonging to the Invisible Church. Over time, most folks continued to attend their own church, but some began to drop out. As the “shattered mirror” continued to splinter, some people either became confused or discouraged. When there are 30,000 to 60,000 groups (hard to pin down the number) proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” but holding to much different doctrines (all supposedly proven by the Bible), confusion or discouragement are certainly possibilities.

People who made the decision to not attend any Church were often asked why this was so. Many folks found this answer seemed to work well and defuse any arguments: “I am spiritual, not religious!” That phrase spread like wildfire as no one seemed to have a good response to it. It grew to the point that many people could confidently say: “I choose not to attend a church, but I am a Christian and Jesus is my Lord! I worship Him when I am outdoors, in fact, up on a mountain is best!” Because membership in the true church of Jesus, that invisible church, requires only belief in the Lordship of Jesus, then all of these people must be “saved” too.

More and more people are seeing the advantages of “being saved” without need of a church: extra sleep, golf, football on television, freedom to do as one pleases… The doctrine of the “Invisible Church” may be reaching the pinnacle of its evolution with an unbelievable growing membership.

But here are some thoughts for reflection:

  • Why would the Bible talk about ordaining bishops, priests, and deacons for an invisible church?
  • Why would the Bible mention that we should never forsake the assembling of ourselves together?
  • Why would the “doctrine” of the invisible church never be mentioned for over 1600 years after Jesus established His Church if He intended it to be invisible?
  • Is there any authority except “self” for proclaiming “I am spiritual, not religious?” Did Jesus desire a “do-it-yourself” belief in Him?
  • For those who prefer to worship the Lord up on a mountain, when was the last time this honestly took place in your life? This cannot mean simply being in awe of God’s creation, but real, true worship of the Lord.

This article is not merely an issue about how someone may spend their Sundays. What is at issue here is the matter of salvation and how people will spend eternity.

Jesus did in fact establish a Church on this earth. It was never meant to be invisible, but it is meant to be a visible witness to the entire world. This Church has been passed on to each and every generation without fail. Christ passed it on to His Apostles, they passed it on to their disciples, and each generation of disciples passed it on to the next.

It is a place where each and every person is meant to be an important part of an overall Body, with each part playing a role. A thumb by itself, not connected to one’s body, is simply dead flesh. Jesus is the Head of a Body, not of individual parts scattered about by their own desire. “I did it my way” should never be the theme song for how we live our lives.

The Church is the very place where all the aspects of salvation are found. All of the Sacraments of the Lord are found within the Church. It begins with Holy Baptism and Chrismation. Confession of our sins takes place within the Church. It is the place where members receive the very Body and Blood of Christ, which then nourishes every cell within a person. Prayers for healing and being anointed with Holy Unction come from the Church. Marriages are blessed by God within the Church; it is something God does, not we through our vows. Ordinations of clergy are done within the Church. And at the end of our earthly life, prayers are said at our funeral which takes place in the Church. Our whole life is meant to be lived as a member of the Church, not as a self-ruled, individualistic journey.

The Church is the place where people come to offer corporate worship. The earliest documented service of the Church comes from the hand of an Apostle of Christ: The Liturgy of Saint James the Apostle. This service and all of the services after him reflect the corporate sense of worship and not some individualistic endeavor. The Church in the Book of Acts also reflects this same corporate sense of worship.

The Church is here today for each and every person. Salvation is truly found within the Church. This we affirm and proclaim to the world today. And with God’s help we will pass this Faith on to the next generation.

 

Why Should I have my House Blessed?

holy-theophany

In my Orthodox parish we will be celebrating Holy Theophany (The Baptism of our Lord) on January 6th. The celebration of this Feast of our Lord actually begins on January 5th, a day known as the Forefeast of Theophany.

Together with the other services celebrating this Feast of our Lord, there is a service of the Blessing of the Waters. This is usually conducted in the church. However in many places throughout the world services are conducted near open bodies of water. As a sign of blessing as Christ blessed the Jordan, Holy Water is poured into the body of water. A cross is then thrown into the water to be retrieved by young folks diving into the water.

Here in Colorado, many Orthodox gather on the Continental Divide for a special blessing of the waters of both sides of the Divide. Frozen crosses of water are placed in the snow on each side. In this way, the water flowing to the Pacific and the water flowing to the Atlantic are both blessed.

The holy water from the church is given to the faithful to consume throughout the year and to use in blessing their homes. In the weeks following the Feast, Orthodox clergy visit the homes of parishioners and conduct a service of blessing using the holy water that was blessed on the Feast of Theophany.

Someone asked me a very good question last year at Holy Theophany:

“Why should I have my house blessed every year? I mean, come on, I had it blessed several years ago and that seems good enough for me.”

Here is my response:

That is a great question and one that every Orthodox Christian needs to ponder. House blessings are not just some cultural tradition, but a very spiritual and important issue for you to consider.

When I was a prison chaplain, I would go around the prison to the cell of each Orthodox man and bless their home. Often other men would see me or hear about it and they too would ask for their cell to be blessed. The reports back were always the same: “Father, I felt such peace after my cell was blessed and I slept so well!” It was something that many men looked forward to each year.

Many years ago when I was a fairly new priest, a family asked me to help them. They were seeing “ghosts” in their home on a regular basis and it had the whole family scared. Being a very inexperienced priest, I felt this was a definitely above my pay grade and called upon a wonderful monastic for his advice. He said he would come and together we would bless their home. We did the entire service for blessing the home and as we went through the house, he told me that he could see the demons were fleeing in front of us. I of course saw nothing. This man is holier than I could ever hope to be! He told me that the Holy Water stings the demons like fire and they flee from it. We continued to bless the home until he said every evil had been removed. The report back from these folks in the following weeks and months was of peace, no sightings of “ghosts”, and very good nights of sleep.

I share these two stories with you to show the need we all have for the peace of the Lord in our homes. I am not suggesting that your home is filled with demons and all kinds of evil. But, throughout the year we may end up bringing things into our homes that we really don’t want there: such as anger, gossip, slander, lying, lust, hatred, envy, covetousness, sloth, despair…you get the idea. Many of the Holy Fathers of our Faith tell us that there is a very spiritual aspect to all of these and they affect the atmosphere around us. So it can be in our homes and often it happens so very slowly that we do not recognize its impact.

So the question you asked really gets reversed: “Why would any Orthodox Christian not want their home blessed each year?” When Holy Theophany rolls around this year and the list for house blessings is made available, be sure to sign up. It may be the best “cleaning” you can possibly give your home.

A Different New Year’s Resolution

2017

2017 is right around the corner!!  Incredible!  With the New Year upon us, many people will be making their annual resolutions.  These usually range from what we eat, drink, smoke, and wear…to the shape of our bodies and what we plan to do about it.  With the vast multitude of resolutions that we have available, I would like to add one more for your consideration:  What comes out of our mouth!

“We all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.  When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example.  Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts…With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers (and sisters) this should not be” (James 3).

Those words of wisdom from St. James tell us the importance of controlling what comes out of our mouths.  Our words shape our whole lives, who we are and what others think of us.  How we appear to others in the work place and in our communities is something that we should take very seriously.  Often however, my own tongue is wagging before my brain ever kicks in.

All people would do well to have control over their tongues.  If a person has no control over that area, it is difficult to trust them with other aspects.  What comes to most people’s minds at this point is cursing.  Certainly, this is very important as the Holy Scriptures clearly tell us in Colossians 3:8…”now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.

Would you want to go to a doctor who said:  “Stick out your @#&%#@ tongue, I want to take your @@#&%$#@ temperature” or “Listen you @#%$#@ @#&%$#@ you have the @#$&$#@ flu”.  Most of us would question that doctor’s professionalism and his character (he might have the skills but he would still lose the patients, especially my family).  So it is with each of us.  Our worth, our professionalism, and even our Faith are often measured by what comes out of our mouths (for good or for bad).

But controlling one’s tongue goes far beyond cursing.  How about what we say about other people?  Saying something bad about someone or something might feel good for the moment.  But, as we have all experienced, those words may just come back to bite us and that good feeling will be long gone.  Many times we do not find out that something bad we said about someone has gotten back to them, but we can guess that it did by the broken relationship we experience.

This is a problem that has a remedy. As we read in Colossians 3:8, “you yourselves are to put off all these”…we are to do these things ourselves!! We simply need to begin saying good and positive things about another person or situation.  If we don’t have good words to say then perhaps we would do well to be quiet.  In the same manner that negative words breed negativity, so it is that positive words are very contagious.  If one says:  “It’s a great day…I love my job…I’m happy to be here…_______ is a great person”, others will be finding ways to say positive things as well.

Now you may live or work in a very tough environment, where you hear negative and even ugly things every day.  It is so easy to want to answer back with the same type of words.  Usually, this just escalates the situation.  Consider these simple words from Holy Scripture: “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1).  Over the many years in my work as a Chaplain, I had ample opportunity to truly test that proverb.  I can tell you it does work; and it works very well.  I would encourage you to test it out yourself the next time you run on to someone being ugly and spewing forth wrathful words. It is amazing just how well it works.

So in addition to your resolutions to eat less and exercise more, I would encourage you to add this matter of what comes out of your mouth to your list for 2017.  One of the best things that any of us can resolve to do for ourselves, our families, our friends, and our work place is to speak words that are good and positive to those around us. Our words have the power to help make us be the very best people we can be.

May God bless you richly in 2017!!!