Urban Church Planting: Engaging Ethnic Cultural Enclaves to Cultivate the Cultural Oikos.

Research has demonstrated a decline within the Western Church for several years. While statistics have shown that 80–85% of American churches are either dying, declining, or plateauing, those numbers are nearly a decade old (Malphurs 2013, 200). Unfortunately, the statistical data has not improved. A recent Barna Group study that included 34 denominations discovered 1.5 churches closed for every church that opened (Barna 2021). Subsequently, the United States receives over three times more missionaries than any other country worldwide (Matsuo 2014). J.D. Payne suggests that “God is the Divine Maestro orchestrating the movements of some of the world’s least-reached peoples into Western countries” (Payne 2022, 168). Thus, America is the mission field of the world, while within her borders, its Church is in decline. 

With that stated, America is in a historically unique situation. While the United States has always been a beacon of hope to all people groups, it is currently receiving more foreign-born peoples than ever before, gathering 44 million per year (Connor and Budiman, 2019). From Census data, The Center for Immigration Studies found that one in eight people living in the United States is an immigrant, and one in five is between the ages of 40 and 64 (Hagey 2007). Within the American Church’s midst exists the ethnē of the world. 

A recent New York Times article noted that if America’s current immigration trend continues, it will exceed the immigration influx of Europeans that arrived at Ellis Island in the 1890s (Gabeloff and Jordan 2022). While American missionaries once circumnavigated the oceans to reach the unreached, the people of the nations are here. As President Jimmy Carter once declared, “We’ve become not a melting pot, but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, and different dreams” (Carter, 1976). The American Church has the opportunity to shape the world by cultivating gospel reconciliation among its minority and diaspora communities. 

As Western Christianity gravitates toward enculturation and stagnation, it is presented with a paradigm-shifting opportunity to re-establish and cultivate missional movements that reach multiple diaspora cultures. Likewise, for the American Church to effectively cease its steady decline, it must redevelop itself, refocusing its attention as a global Church participant. David Bosch affirms, “The Christian faith must be rethought, reformulated and lived anew in each human culture, and this must be done in a vital way, in depth and right to the cultures’ roots” (Bosch 2009, 452). The American Church must reevaluate its thinking regarding the unregenerate among its communities and how it views itself within the global Church. Additionally, how the American Church recognizes and engages culture for multiplicative reproduction needs realigning.  

Migration and Ethnic Enclaves

Enoch Wan asserts, “Urbanization is one of the global trends of diaspora” (Wan 2010). One study noted the increase of diaspora communities becoming essential developmental actors that improve socio-economic and cultural connections between the origin country and their hosts (Gamlen 2014, 180-217). Countries that mobilize diaspora for specific international training, business development, or cooperative assignments are not only becoming increasingly more relevant but a form of long-distance nationalistic mission. 

Many countries, including China, India, the Philippines, Israel, and South Korea, recognize and implement the practical applications of using vast diasporas for economic, community, and organizational developments. For instance, foreign governments utilize specific student or working Visas for their people to study engineering or medical procedures abroad. Contracted diaspora gain a robust education through diverse cultural perspectives and practices. 

Connected to the trending global migration, contracted diaspora, and urbanization is the aspect of settlement choice. Studies show that migrating peoples tend to gravitate toward largely populated areas and ethnically group together. For example, one population survey in Minnesota noted that 97% of the members of Hmong descent lived within the same region (Xiong, 2017). Not exclusive to the Hmong people, research specifies that ethnically concentrated enclaves formulate due to immigrants of a particular origin settling into areas where others from the exact origin live (Cheswick and Miller 2004). For that reason, it is imperative for local churches to effectively exegete their cities and communities to understand and engage the cultural and demographic shifts occurring. 

Therefore, in researching migrating people groups, several commonalities exist: (1) urban environments are the chosen settlement (Singer 2013), (2) overcrowded, multi-family, and multiple generational family housing is the norm within diaspora people with the additional trend pertaining to all racial groups (Cohn and Passel 2018), and (3) migrating peoples create ethnic cultural enclaves. By definition, ethnic enclaves are concentrations of people that share culture and ethnicity within a distinct geographic location.

Cultivating Cultural Oikos from Cultural Enclaves

As a practitioner, studying demographics can be beneficial. However, exegeting the neighborhood or city is better. Learning to exegete or interpret culture is just as crucial as biblical studies. One method for the Church to exegete community is by examining existing data. Another method to exegete community is for churches or organizations to deploy small groups that collect data by walking, observing, and recording. This last method can be tedious but more thorough and complete.

            Regardless, for this scenario, utilizing the microchurch model will be an effective strategy. The microchurch planter feels the call of God and the prodding of the Spirit to reach a particular people group (if you want to know more about microchurches, click here). After establishing a relationship with a couple, they become his “persons of peace.” For decades, missionaries have utilized the person of peace concept (Lk. 10:6). Jesus instructed his disciple-making apostles with their marching orders, declaring, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him” (Lk.10:5–6). As missionaries sought out the person of peace within a community, they rightly sought out hospitable and influencing type individuals that provided an opportunity to reach a village or people group.

            There is a straightforward relationship between strategic church planting and immigrant overcrowded living, settlement, and housing. The comprehension that diaspora and migrating people create concentrated ethnic enclaves, dwelling within multigenerational and multi-family dwellings, relates to the attraction of utilizing the microchurch cultural oikos strategy. Biblically, the Greek word oikos refers to a household or dwelling. For church planting strategies, the organizational attributes of the oikos help cultivate intentional reproducible gospel reconciliation. Cultural enclaves can produce cultural oikos.

            As the microchurch planter reaches and connects with his persons of peace, he has two developing scenarios. First, he can become the planter/elder/pastor to cultivate gospel reconciliation among the people group that he feels called to reach, or second, he can become the catalyst planter, discipling the persons of peace couple, so that they can be the elders/pastors of the microchurch. Regardless, without the persons of peace, reaching the ethnic enclave may not be easy. 

            In the diagram below, the planter becomes the lead elder, discipling the persons of peace. As they are discipled, they reach the cultural enclave, being invited to gather with the lead elder and couple. As the same nationality, ethnicity, and race, the cultural enclave is connected to the persons of peace. The persons of peace begin reaching others in their community enclave, in turn, cultivating the development of a microchurch cultural oikos

Nevertheless, the closeness and constant communication within these dwelling places represent a cultural oikos in which greater opportunity for gospel saturation and reconciliation exists.

            Subsequently, as someone more catalytic, helping the persons of peace become indigenous microchurch planters has similar features. The catalytic planter disciples the persons of peace in the same manner as the first strategy; however, he does not engage the microchurch plant as a participant. The catalyst’s role is to help cultivate as many microchurch cultural oikos’ as possible, by discipling persons of peace to engage their cultural enclaves.

Nevertheless, the goal is reproducible disciple-making. The missiological term cultural oikos only helps identify gospel engagement strategies. Understanding that diaspora and migrating groups are not models but people with deeply rooted rituals, ideologies, and beliefs—for the microchurch planter, the person of peace is vital. As one missiologist noted, “For many of these people groups, Christianity is viewed as a competing political and religious force that threatens to break up families and communities. These people need to be reached through a gospel movement emphasizing God’s blessing to heal and strengthen families. Many of these people groups have deep roots in their traditions, which can make it difficult for them to choose the gospel” (East West, n.d.). Gospel movements provide reproducibility and healing, restoring and reconciling the image of God, back to God. While a difficulty exists to infiltrate some traditions, rituals, and roots, the person of peace becomes the archetypal biblical Roman Centurion or Philippian jailer (Acts 10:2, 16:21). These reconciled men served as influencers among their people and became the gateway for their cultural enclave to become a cultural oikos to receive gospel reconciliation. 

The primary content of this article was presented at the Evangelical Missiological Society Southeast Conference, March 19th, 2022. If you’d like a full copy of the article “Planting Urban Microchurches: Utilizing the Cultural Oikos to Cultivate Gospel reconciliation Among Minority and Diaspora Communities,” please feel free to contact me.

Microchurch Planting vs. House Church: Which One is For You?

Lately, much is being written about microchurches. With the intimacy of fellowship, community, worship, and driven mission, it is obvious why people are being drawn to this vibrant kingdom expression. As a practitioner and professor, I have the grateful ability to view movements from the field and vicariously live experiences through student planters and pastors. Being asked frequently about the differences between microchurches and house churches has propelled me to write a short article (and provide some graphics).

First, microchurch planting is not merely the new trending missiological term; it does have succinct differences and parameters. For the most part, they are catalytic and a decentralized movement creator. Microchurches do not belong to denominations or organizations, yet they develop strategic and dynamic networks. 

As well, house churches also do not belong to denominations. For clarity, most church plants tend to begin as house churches until they are ready for a public launch. More precisely, traditional church planting is not being discussed in this article. A house church is not the same as a microchurch. Microchurch does not mean small church. Micro refers to the definitive mission focus. Microchurches are called to someone, something, or someplace. They do not have multiple outreaches, as they are “micro-focused” on one specific identity.

In the diagram below, a microchurch planter is moved by the Spirit, feeling called to reach a specific subculture of people in his community. The planter prays for these people every day as he joins them in skateboarding. Building a relationship with a “skater-dude,” the planter finds his person of peace (Luke 10:6). As the planter disciples the person of peace, he is baptized and seeks the Word of God and fellowship. Subsequently, the person of peace connects with many other “skater-dudes.” While he’s still being discipled by the planter/catalyst, the skater-dude helps cultivate a microchurch within a subculture.

Diagram

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As stated, microchurches are driven by a unified mission. Every believer is a participating missionary within the same mission. Undeterred by diverse outreaches, programs, or events, the microchurch collectively gathers, prays, and funds one single mission. Each person feels the same Divine calling to the mission. In our case, the microchurch focused on a skateboarding subculture, but it could be a people group or any specific component of culture.

House Churches

While a microchurch is filled with one type of culture, subculture, people group, or affinity, house churches are different. A house church can be autonomous like a microchurch. Still, the house church model seeks to reach anyone and everyone, regardless of culture, subculture, geographic location, ethnicity, race, occupation, or any other defining label—that is a good thing! Below, a small diagram illustrates the diversity of a house church. 

Diagram

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The church planting couple in the middle is discipling and leading many people to Christ. Perhaps, as the couple meets “farmer Bob” at a local farmer’s market, they share the gospel and invite him to their house church. Bob knows an inner-city police officer that he invites into the house church. The policeman knows a family with a small baby who lives in the suburbs and would like to join them. As visible in the diagram, there is a comprehensive perspective of people (farmer, policeman, single dad, businesswoman, family, etc.). While house churches may still utilize traditional church polity and liturgy, they enjoy the organic aspect of church. They seek the intimacy, fellowship, worship, and communion of a microchurch, but are not as mission-driven or unified. The policeman may want to start a food ministry in the city, in which several volunteers help him. Someone else may wish to build handicapped accessible ramps for the elderly and disabled. At the same time, another decides to start a single dad ministry. While none of these outreaches are bad, on the contrary, they are all good, just different than a microchurch.

            Nevertheless, there is a need for every strategy and model within church planting. Understanding which model best fits your talents, gifts, and calling are vital. You may have read through this article and realized that neither is right for you. You may be gravitating toward missional communities, a launch model, a team approach, or an entrepreneurial strategy? In each scenario, it is essential to recognize the pros and cons of each strategy. While this article is a condensed version of each, hopefully, it has provided you with a clearer picture of microchurches and house churches. If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to connect with me. 

Broken and Ineffective? The Pastoral Search Committee Process.

Ever wait for a pastoral search committee to make its selection? 

Ever get frustrated with the length of time you have had to wait? 

Two months. Six months. Nine months. Eighteen months … 

Read on. 

Any pastor that has ever decided to seek another pastorate, for any reason, has probably found themselves patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for long periods. I have always found the pastoral search committee process one of the most ineffective, and perhaps, laborious and drawn-out tasks I have ever witnessed (or been a participant). However, I should note that I have worked in the world of business. 

As a former restaurant owner and operator, I was the executive in charge of the hiring process, sometimes of two restaurants simultaneously. My restaurants were high-end establishments; finding qualified chefs and the wait staff was priority one. Sifting through resumes, vetting people, and seeking recommendations was a minuscule part of the daily operations but an imperative one.

The Problem

So, to say that I am dumbfounded by the amount of time it takes for a church committee to “call” a pastor has at times made me nearly re-consider my “calling.”  While I believe in the wisdom of counsel, sometimes I perceive a lackadaisical approach to the process. 

            To clarify, I would never state that any individuals are purposefully or maliciously lazy in their duty—to the contrary—most pastoral search committees are volunteers that work other jobs. They are required to usually meet once every other week or even once a month—they make reports back to the church about the candidates they have chosen. Sometimes the church may even receive hundreds of resumes, just like any other business in the world. But what if these individuals were tasked at their occupation to hire an individual, and they waited two years?

The Results

In the name of “prayer” and “seeking God’s wisdom,” there is a languid pace of selection that does not seem to validate the lengthy process beneficially. Statistics demonstrate that the average search committee takes between 18-24 months from start to selection.[1] That’s two years! In my mind, that is absurd and ineffective! Let me tell you why.

LifeWay research indicated that the average pastoral tenure in a church is 3.6 years. In contrast, a recent Harvard study found that the average tenure of a CEO was at least 7.2 years, double that of the church.[2] The average hiring process for a C-suite level individual was 76 days (less than three months). I utilize the C-suite level statistics to illustrate a point since the senior pastor is viewed on the same level. Additionally, I think it’s appropriate since the average college graduate is hired in 24.5 days and the average across all industries is 43 days.[3] I utilized the largest number.

            Imagine waiting nearly two years to know if a specific company has hired you? Imagine the frustration, angst, and not to mention, the difficult task of performing day-to-day activities in a position that you know you are leaving. I have to wonder, would a president of a company question a recruiting agency or inside committee that took nearly two years to fill a position?

A Real Issue

            Here’s one of the real issues. The average pastoral tenure is 3.6 years, and the average search committee process takes 18-24 months for selection. In that case, the pastor has proverbially “left the building” a long time before he submits his resignation. Statistics might illustrate that the average tenure could technically be 1.5 years, but I’m not making that case. My point is the search committee process is broken and ineffective. The secular world is much more effective in its hiring process. 

            Ok, I know what you’re thinking. The church isn’t “hiring” anyone; the pastorate is a calling that necessitates the wisdom of God to make sure of a perfect fit. Sure, I agree, but to what extent? The numbers state that the “fit” was never there, certainly not in the sense of longevity. So, what’s the solution?

Solutions?

            I don’t propose to be the expert, only someone that sees hindrances, innovation, statistics, and paradigmatic trends. However, the lengthy pastoral search committee process seems to be a hindrance to the church. How so? If senior pastors proverbially leave their positions two years before the resignation, we have pastors in pulpits that are not focused, unhappy, and probably “going through the motions.” The church needs to be doing a better job at prayerfully and speedily choosing the pastor. The early church chose an apostle by drawing straws (Acts 1:26). 

            While I don’t think we should be reduced to casting lots, perhaps Luke’s point in Acts is that God is sovereign. Maybe we hone down the selection process quickly and let God do the rest. If you think that the long, drawn-out process of two years will be more beneficial, you might want to re-think that—statistics demonstrate otherwise.

            Another solution may be that the church is not raising leaders from within. The church “hires” from outside, bringing in a person that needs to learn the DNA, nuances, personalities, and inner workings of the community and church people. However, I have also found this troubling since most congregations will not respect or trust a leader from within (Mark 6:4). But that’s another topic. 

            So, my best advice (maybe you have an opinion, too), let us heed and obey the words of Christ, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).


[1] National Association of Congregational Churches, https://www.naccc.org/resources/pastoral-search/

[2] Dan Marcec, “CEO Tenure Rates” https://corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2018/02/12/ceo-tenure-rates/

[3] “How long does it take to hire an executive” https://www.ghrr.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-hire-an-executive/

The Cultural Mandate’s Connection to the Great Commission

Relationships. Humans have relatedness and relationship because of the Creator. Humanity was created in the “image” and “likeness” of God (Gen. 1:26-28). Our relatedness and relationship ability define humanity as different than any other created thing. We were made for relationships. 

Through the Scriptures, the reassurance of our purpose and design in being relationship-driven is validated. The only time within the creation narrative that God mentions anything negative is in man’s isolation and loneliness (Gen. 2:18). Humanity was made for relatedness and relationship, with God and with one another. What does this have to do with a cultural mandate?

The cultural mandate, as it is known, states, “God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). 

The misconception about the cultural mandate is that people believe that it merely applies to human reproduction. However, in light of the continuity of Scripture, and the wholeness counsel of God, there is a link to multiplicity and a correlation to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20). Yet, as we note from the beginning of creation,  an intimacy of relatedness (to God, one another, and creation) and the primacy of love is innately encoded into our DNA, by the Creator. 

As Adam and Eve walked with the Creator in the garden, they were gaining an intimate understanding of living with God within the daily regularities of life. The proclamation “to be fruitful and multiply,” or cultural mandate, was a commission—to fill the earth as image-bearers of God.[1] 

Think of this—if Adam and Eve had not committed sin, their mandate would have driven them to expand the Garden of Eden to fill the entirety of the earth. The Garden of Eden would have possessed no boundaries. Every person, beginning at birth, would have come to know, love, worship, and serve the Creator by becoming a disciple-maker (talking about God and living for God). For this reason, we can see the correlation with the Great Commission multiplicative mandate to make disciples of every tribe and nation (Mt. 28:19-20). Life is about knowing God and making Him known (multiplying).

As a student of God’s Word, the metanarrative of Scripture is God’s story—the Scriptures reveal the One True God to humanity. As Michael Goheen notes, “The gospel places us between creation and consummation, the beginning and end of cosmic history … we find ourselves in the middle of the Bible as one story whose central thread is the missional vocation of God’s people…”[2] The Old Testament and the New Testament are not divorced from one another—nor are they separated stories, but one continual story, much like a thread of comments on an Instagram post. 

Therefore, I believe the cultural mandate is much like the Great Commission—a direct order given from the Creator to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:26-28; Matt. 28:18–20). While there are some distinctions between the two, both relay a kingdom ethos. Like the cultural mandate, within Christ’s command to make disciple-makers is the tantamount awareness of relatedness and relationship—with man and with God. 

To understand the Great Commission is to understand that each person alive today has been created in the image of God and participates within God’s story. The Great Commission must compel God’s redeemed people to look beyond discipleship as conversion therapy, but as the very definition and story of what it means to be human. God’s story is “the true story of the whole world.”[3] Discipleship begins at relationship, not conversion. 

Next, the Great Commission is a divine directive for those who have been saved by grace and filled with the Holy Spirit of God to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). The church actively partakes in, and participates with, the Triune God. There is a divine koinonia, of cross-centered living and sharing of possessions, emotions, and relationships that constrict a cruciform community.[4] The Great Commission has direct kinship to the cultural mandate because God, through Jesus Christ, renews the image-bearers of God. Christ re-creates humanity (2 Cor. 5:17), breathing new breath into them (John 20:22), and placing them back into the Adamic state of relationship (yet, not yet, sinless). 

The cultural mandate is an “evangelistic mandate” and an “imperative to make disciples.”[5] I know that some scholars may disagree with me, but I can’t help to connect the dots within the metanarrative of God—that God created man in His image and likeness to know Him, love Him, and serve Him, and to fill the earth as His protectorates. 

The cultural mandate mirrors the Great Commission as Christ, God in the flesh, the reigning cosmic King, with all authority and an omnipotent presence, journeying with mankind, as disciple-makers make disciple-makers (Matt. 28:18–20). In the Garden, Jesus, the second and last Adam, lived out the mission of God, by and with obedience, something that the first Adam failed to do within his garden. 

So, we arrive at a destination—a course in which God in Christ, by the power of the Spirit, is leading us and directing us in a sanctifying life of mission. As well, our end goal should be the drive, zeal, and desire to be more holy, missional, and like Christ. Jesus was the ultimate reproducible disciple-maker. He was the penultimate image of God (Col. 1:15). And, if we were created for him, to him, and through him (Rom. 11:36; Col. 1:16), then our lives must have intentionality in living out what He said and did (Matt. 28:19). 


[1] Wagner, C. Peter. Strategies for Church Growth, 111.

[2] Goheen, Michael, The Church and Its Vocation: Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology), 8–9.

[3] Ibid., 23.

[4] Hastings, Ross. Missional God, Missional Church, 216.

[5] Ibid., 50, 111.

Should Christians Be Cremated: A Biblical Response.

With a topic such as cremation, it is understandable that opinions are strong. There are numerous cultural reasons for the acceptance of cremation, including financial and real estate. It is also acknowledged that God is able and capable of resurrecting humanity from the devastating effects of a fire. Assuredly, this article is not comprehensive, but I find it quite alarming with the increase of cremation. Bear with me; this article intends not to cast judgment, but to present the biblical understanding of the imago Dei, the dignity of life, rest, and theological underpinning of the preservation of the faithful. 

Imago Dei

All people are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). This means that we are image-bearers of the one true God. As the image-bearers of God, from the beginning, life was sacred, relational, and honorable. The Lord’s response to the slaying of Abel by his brother Cain is a testimony to life’s frailty and the body’s ability to speak beyond the grave. 

The Lord asserts to Cain, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). While one would suspect that God witnessed the killing and received Abel’s soul, the choice of words is interesting—the blood crying up from the ground is weeping. The ground receives Abel’s blood. Cain leaves his brother’s body lying on the ground. Cain has no regard for life; even after death, he neglects the body of his brother.

When John the Baptist was beheaded, news returns to Jesus. Matthew records, “And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus” (Matt. 14:12). Imago Dei. Biblically, whether in early church history or Judaism, the bodies of those that passed on were honored, sacred, and treated with dignity.

Dignity of Life

As image-bearers of God, Christians believe in the sanctity of human life, whether in birth or death. Contrary to this belief is paganism. Throughout history, the worshippers of Baal, Barbarians, pagans, and idol-worshippers burned their dead. But, that was never the case for those that believed in God Almighty. 

The promising covenants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob regarding their burials and bones were clear (Gen. 23:4; 47:29-30; Ex. 13:19; Heb. 11:22). Jacob’s lasts words to his sons, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers” (Gen. 49:29), is a testimony to the dignity of life. There has always been an ethical and honorable treatment and preservation of the bones of the faithful. Whether it be the kings and their families (2 Sam. 21:12),  priests, or prophets (1 Ki. 13:31; 2 Ki. 23:18), the bones of the faithful were preserved. The early church was adamant about protecting the bones of the dead that they hid and buried them in the catacombs, away from Roman fire. 

However, biblically speaking, when a curse from God was pronounced, fire was to desecrate the bones of the faithless, “And the man cried against the altar by the word of the LORD and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you’” (1 Ki. 13:2). The writer of 2 Kings provides the fulfillment of the prophecy, “[Josiah] burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Ki. 23:5). The burning of the bones of the faithless was considered a cleansing of wickedness.

Through Jeremiah, God pronounces judgment upon the bones of the kings, officials, prophets, and priests that worshipped other gods—so that their bones would not receive dignity or rest (Jer. 8). As well, when Moab transgressed by cremating the king of Edom, the Lord declared, “Thus says the Lord:  “For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom. So I will send a fire upon Moab” (Amos 2:1-2). 

The point being made is not that modern cremation is evil, or that people intend evil; the point is to illustrate that humanity ought to have more honor, respect, and dignity for the faithful. It’s alarming at the amount of Christians that no longer honor the bones of the saints to lay them to rest. Through movies and television, our current culture glorifies the burning of peoples, as if it creates dignity (more on that in a moment, see theological). 

Rest

When Christ was crucified, a person alleged to be a blasphemer by claiming to be God, was meticulously prepared for burial and laid to rest. While the disciples and His followers did not understand the resurrection (yet), they did believe in honor, respect, and rest. Judaism always adhered to the rest and dignity of the body.

Sherrie Johnson, researching and writing about the catacombs, states, 

“Many of the people living in and around Rome during the turn of modern times believed in burning the bodies of their dead. Christians of the time believed that the cremation of their dead was morally wrong. Since there wasn’t enough space above ground to store their dead, they started building tunnels underground to bury the dead, as the Jewish communities had done before them … The bodies of the dead are meant to be treated with respect. In Christianity, death is a transitory phase that leads to eternal peace in heaven for the righteous. This is one reason why people bury the dead with utmost respect and care.”[1]

Another reason why burial was important was the unwavering faith of the believer. A believer’s burial was not only a committal to the ground in which man was formed, but a resting place until the resurrection. Without a proper burial, like Abel, the body was not at rest, peace, and awaiting a return of Christ. Christians believe that God will provide new life to the mortal body. 

While some modern believers may argue, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” God is fully capable of resurrecting both. Indeed, God is, but the confronting question should be, are we treating the saints with dignity, honor, and respect as the imago Dei and as a redeemed saint? If the early Christians went to such drastic measures to avoid the burning of bodies, have we strayed so far from orthodoxy, or are we sacrificing honor for convenience? (read the invasion of 8th-century Germanic tribes into Rome and how the Christians hid their dead).

Theological

Animism and paganism believe that gods exist in things—trees, water, mountains, weather, rocks, etc. The burning of the dead was supposed to release the soul from the body to enter into the spiritual state of oneness with eternity. Similarly, Buddhism believes in nirvana, the state after death that a person can become one with the universe. 

This is why modern movies and television promote Barbarian and Roman warriors’ burning—they burn their remains to let them become one with the universe, to be released from the body, forever. Unfortunately, that is not Christian theology. We believe in the resurrection of the dead, when these bones will be renewed, and become like Christ (Rom. 6:5). We believe in the Holy Scriptures, which testify of our earthly bodies being transformed (Phil. 3:21).

Conclusion

As I stated in the beginning, this article is not intended to judge anyone, especially when they may have had a loved one cremated. The focus of the article is to present the biblical precedent of the imago Dei, the sanctity and dignity of life, honor, respect, and the tradition of rest. It is obvious that I am revealing my convictions, but I would hope that this article opens a conversation with loved ones, a deeper study of the Scriptures, and a more profound love of laying to rest the bones of the saints.


[1] Johnson, Sherrie. “Roman Catacombs: Origin, Purpose & Use Today.” https://www.joincake.com/blog/roman-catacombs/