Theology

I was asked a question about Catholics, cremation and the scattering of ash. Here is my brief answer:

Ancient cremation practices

The whole issue of cremation goes back to the Romans. They denied the bodily resurrection so they often burned the body and if they were rich they put the ashes in urns and put them in the necropolis which was the city of the dead. Every year on the anniversary of the death they would “visit” the dead in remembrance and pour their favorite wine into the ashes. 

Imagine the contrast in ancient times. The Romans would build a pyre and lay the body on top. The flames would take many hours to completely consume the body. The whole time the smell of burning hair and flesh would waft through the air. It was a big project and you watched the body disappear with nothing left but a heap of ashes and foul smells.

In contrast, the Christians prepared sarcophagi for their dead. Often it was decorated with biblical images related to the resurrection. Or the body was carefully wrapped in white to represent forgiveness of sins and eternal life. They were placed in the ground or the catacombs with respect for the integrity of the body which would one day be raised.

Christians forbid cremation because they wanted to stand in contrast to the pagans who cremated as a statement against the bodily resurrection. They also did not have an necropolis, the city of the dead. Rather, Christians had a cemetery which means a sleeping place. 

Christians reverently preparing body for deposit awaiting the resurrection

They did not bury the dead – they deposited them in the grave. Why deposit? Because just as you deposit money in the bank you intend to come back and withdraw the money. The body was deposited in the ground in preparation for Jesus coming back to withdraw the body at the end of time.

So cremation was a denial of the bodily resurrection and burial was an affirmation that the body was sleeping awaiting the day of, resurrection.

The Catholic Church has recently taught that cremation was OK as long as it was not a statement against the bodily resurrection. As long as one affirmed the resurrection of the body at the end of time, cremation was acceptable. However to preserve the integrity of the body the remains were to remain in one place and not scattered across an ocean or field, etc.

The Code of Canon Law says, “§3. The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.”

The Catechism states, “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”

The scattering of the ashes could be seen as denying the bodily resurrection because scattering the ashes everywhere can imply the person is gone — reabsorbed into the physical creation as its final end. It ceases to exist. 

That is why the Catholic Church affirms the need to keep the ashes with integrity remembering that those ashes in the urn are the very matter that will be raised up at the end of time and reconstituted into the body of the person. The new heavenly body will be reunited with the soul to live forever — either in glory or in the torments of hell separated from God for eternity.

Mom with Dad before he died

When my father died my mother had no desire to visit the grave (though she has several times since) because she said, “That is not Dad”. I explained to her that this attitude denied the bodily resurrection because God loves stuff. He made stuff, matter, the body. On the day he created Man he said, “It is very good.” He liked what he had created.

That cold dead body was still Dad and when Jesus comes back he loves that body enough to raise it from the dust and re-fashion it into a new heavenly body. God keeps his eye on those dry bones and dust every day. My mom now understands. Her’s was an understandable reaction to the body with the life gone.

At the end of time my Dad will be raised from the dead and his body will be glorified. If God loves the bodily remains inside the coffin or urn then how much more should we respect the integrity of the remains as well.

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I was looking up Greek definitions of the word baptism and found this interesting “definition.” This dictionary is usually very good but I found this summary of biblical passages on baptism very intriguing and disingenuous. Take a look at this definition and think about it for yourself. Analyze it and the verses used. Notice how they dismiss the clear biblical meaning and importance of the word and the sacrament. 

“The goal of baptism is eternal life, but not primarily by way of vivification [my comment: giving of new life]. In spite of 1 Pet. 3:20–21; Jn. 3:5–6; Tit. 3:5, the thought of the cleansing bath is more fundamental (1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22). Biblical piety rules out magical evaluations of religious objects and actions. Hence baptism has no purely external efficacy and in itself is unimportant (1 Cor. 1:17; Heb. 9:9–10; 1 Pet. 3:21).”
(Kittel, Gerhard, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985.)

An unsuspecting person, a subscriber to the heresy or a newbie might read this without discerning the bias and the error — and how they dismiss some biblical passages to promote others. Can you find it and explain it?

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NOTES: These are some notes related to the above passages. Below are quotes from an attack on my book Crossing the Tiber made by a Pastor Chris Bayak so I added them here to explain some of his false assumptions about the same verses mentioned above.

Bayak writes: “For example, [Ray] uses 1 Peter 3:18-21, admittedly one of the hardest passages in the New Testament, as proof for baptismal regeneration.”

Steve Responds: This passage is hard for Fundamentalist Protestants to interpret because they don’t like what it says and they have to twist it to fit their own man-made tradition. It is quite sad when one has to twist Scripture to fit one’s preconceived ideas. James McCarthy has a tough time with this verse in his book The Gospel according to Rome. I discuss this passage at some length in my book. I wonder how Mr. Bayack would have preferred that St. Peter reword this passage to better fit his Fundamentalist tradition.

 What Peter says is this: “And corresponding to that [Noah’s ark], baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). What about these words does Mr. Bayack find difficult? They seem pretty straightforward to a Catholic and to all Christians before the Fundamentalist movement came into being. We as Catholics don’t have to do mental gymnastics to “get around” this verse. It sounds a lot like the very first Gospel message ever preached. St. Peter preached the first gospel message in Jerusalem. It is recorded in the inspired word of God. Let’s all open our Bibles to Acts 2:38 and allow God to instruct us. “And Peter said to them,  Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “

 Enough said. My book goes into much more detail on the issue of Baptism in the Bible and in the early Church. I question whether Mr. Bayack really read the whole thing or just used the “hunt and peck” method to look for objections. In any case, he certainly uses “selective scholarship.”

Bayak writes “Yet in over ninety pages about baptism, not once does he ever mention clear passages like 1 Corinthians 1:17,  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel  (italics added).”

 Steve Responds: I really don’t see what the above verse has to do with anything unless Mr. Bayack is trying to imply that Paul had a low regard for baptism or considered it an unnecessary appendage to belief in Christ. I remember as a Fundamentalist making my daughter write a report on the unnecessary nature of baptism a symbol only before I would allow her to be baptized. How far off I was.

 Paul’s converts were all baptized immediately upon belief in Christ (e.g., Acts 16:31) as was he himself (Acts 9:17 18). Philip also showed the importance of baptism and baptized the Ethiopian eunuch immediately (Acts 8:36ff.). St. Paul himself recognizes that baptism was the means of his own cleansing and regeneration (e.g., Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5). The very fact that St. Paul makes this observation at this point in the argument demonstrates the importance and deep significance Baptism held in the apostolic Church. Had it been unnecessary or unimportant, he would not have even mentioned it in this context. What Mr. Bayack assumes about this passage actually proves the opposite.

 Jerome’s Biblical Commentary observes, “No special mission was needed to baptize, and Paul usually left the administration of baptism to others. This does not imply any disdain for it; Rom 6:3-12 and 1 Cor 6:11 indicate Paul’s high regard for the sacrament of incorporation into Christ.”

 Matthew Henry, in his ever popular Protestant commentary on the Bible, is also instructive in this matter. “Was it not a part of the apostolical commission to baptize all nations? And could Paul give thanks to God for his own neglect of duty? He is not to be understood in such a sense as if he were thankful for not having baptized at all, but for not having done it in present circumstances, lest it should have had this very bad construction put upon it that he had baptized in his own name, made disciples for himself, or set himself up as the head of a sect.

[Paul] left it to other ministers to baptize, while he set himself to more useful work, and filled up his time with preaching the gospel. This, he thought, was more his business, because the more important business of the two. He had assistants that could baptize, when none could discharge the other part of his office so well as himself. In this sense he says, Christ sent him not to baptize, but to preach the gospel not so much to baptize as to preach” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible).

 Paul, like Jesus, delegated baptizing to his disciples and ministers. The Catholic Church has never taught that baptisms must be done by an apostle or priest. The Church has acknowledged that any person can do baptisms, if done in the correct manner. Jesus thought baptism was important since he told Nicodemus he couldn’t see heaven without it (John 3:5). If Mr. Bayack denies that John 3:5 refers to Baptism he really shows that he is out of continuity with the Bible and the early Church and again his Fundamentalist Protestant tradition is shown to nullify the inspired word of God.

 Jesus also, like Paul, did not baptize His followers but delegated the task to his disciples (cp. John 4:1 2).

 Bayak writes: “He ignores Paul’s definition of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, which makes no mention of baptism or communion, that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Likewise, because he seeks to prove the necessity of the sacraments, he never addresses verses declaring salvation as a free gift such as Romans 6:23 and Ephesians 2:8-9.”

Steve Responds:  I do not ignore 1 Corinthians 15:1 4 but since it does not directly refer to the topic at hand Baptism it was not necessary to bring it up. What would happen if I brought up every verse in the Bible?

 Does Mr. Bayack imply that Baptism is not a free gift? How much more gratuitous can God be than to offer us a sacrament of faith as simple and as wonderful a gift as baptism? Ephesians 2:8 9 and Romans 6:23 do not contradict the Church’s teaching on Baptism, rather they support it. Does Mr. Bayack forget that the first verses of Romans 6 directly mention Baptism and its necessity for the placement of the believer into Christ? In fact, in Romans 6, Paul says that baptism is quite essential. Listen to what he says, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:3 5). According to St. Paul, it is through Baptism that we are placed into Christ!

 Is Mr. Bayack again being selective (practicing “selective scholarship”) by using a proof text allegedly against baptism from Romans 6 but ignoring the fact that Romans 6 begins by teaching us that it is through Baptism that we are placed into Christ? He ignores the whole context but pulls his proof text out of context to support his Fundamentalist tradition.

 I also deal with this passage to some degree in Crossing the Tiber, and find it frustrating that Mr. Bayack appears not to have read what I wrote, but still somehow feels competent to review and critique my book. I feel that I am spending far too much time rewriting things for him that he should have understood if he really read the book.

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Is it possible for a sinful, fallible man to give an infallible interpretation of Scripture or an infallible definition of doctrine? If he is fallible and sinful, doesn’t that preclude his ability to be infallible when it comes to things of God?

No. In fact while many Protestants would say the Pope cannot be infallible in faith and morals because he is a sinner himself, they at the same time must agree that he can do something much more difficult.

What is more difficult: to pick up 10 pounds or to pick up 100 pounds? What is more difficult: to write the very words of God — infallible and inspired text — or to simply give them an infallible interpretation?

Peter and Paul were both fallible, weak and sinful men. There should be no argument here. Yet both did the harder of the two. Both wrote the very words of God inspired and authoritative. Their human weakness did not keep them from being used by God to write inspired Scripture.

We have at least 12 of Paul’s infallible, innerant, inspired writings and two from the pen of Peter. Peter lumps Paul’s writings in with “the other Scriptures,” attesting to their quality as “scripture.”

So Peter and Paul wrote infallible writings by the assistance of God, why would it be impossible for them to do the lesser — to provide an infallible interpretation of the writings, by the assistance of the same God.

Peter’s words were considered infallible even in Acts 15 when James quotes Peter along with the Old Testament Scriptures as his two authorities in making a dogmatic interpretation binding upon the Gentiles. The letter written in Acts 15 is actually called “dogma,” (Greek word used in Acts 16:4).

Peter and the apostled infallibly defined “dogma” in AD 49 at the First Council of the Church held in Jerusalem — long before we had a New Testament.

So, Peter and the apostles CAN give infallible interpretation. This was demonstrated in Acts 15 and in all of Scripture (written by men) and has continued to be demonstrated through the history of the Church with the Popes and the bishops and the councils of the Church.

Remember, Peter demonstrated his fallibility and weakness when he attempted to walk on water and sank. But remember this, Jesus is the one that makes Peter infallible. Jesus reached down and held Peter by the hand and with Jesus’ assistance, Peter did walk on water — all the way back to the boat. It was Jesus who gave Peter the ability to walk on water. It is Jesus who gives the Church, through her pastors and the Pope, the charism of infallibly to lead and teach the Church  — within the guidelines of infallibility (CCC 890-892).

The argument from the greater to the lesser certainly works here. Peter wrote divinely inspired Scripture — which is the harder task, and under the protection of the Holy Spirit he can also provide an infallible interpretation — which is the lesser task.

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Simple Chart on Hierarchy of Authority, Infallibility, Dogma and Doctrine in the Catholic Church

January 8, 2016

From Jimmy Akin: Periodically, I’m asked what the difference is between dogma and doctrine. People have the idea that they are kinds of Church teaching, but they’re not sure precisely what the difference is (or even if there is one). To help folks understand this, I’ve created an infographic that shows how dogma and doctrine [...]

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Temple Sizes Compared – bigger than a football field

January 7, 2016

The 1) Tabernacle in the wilderness, the 2) Temple of Solomon, 3) Herod’s Temple at the time of Christ and 4) Ezekiel’s Temple are compared. The football field looks insignificant compared to the temples (in more than one way :-) The Muslim Shrine that now sits atop Temple Mount is built over the rock where [...]

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Are You Born Again?

January 5, 2016

 Since we are all renewing our Baptismal Vows at the Jordan River today, thought this post from a year ago might be appropriate :-) It seems that God is kind of predictable in a way :-) since He always starts new things in the same way – with “water and the Spirit“. Consider the following: 1) The [...]

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Is there Evidence for Jesus outside the Bible?

January 4, 2016

Some people think Jesus is a mythical figure like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Others think Jesus might be historical but only mentioned in the Bible is the only source of information on the existence of Jesus. They question whether Jesus really existed as a real historical figure. Is the Bible the only source [...]

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Response to an Ex-Catholic, now Baptist

January 3, 2016

A while ago I received an e-mail from a Southern Baptist and decided to take a few minutes to respond. Thought others might be edified by it so I have posted it here without using his name. His e-mail is contained in regular text and my response is in CAPITAL LETTERS. **************************************************** HELLO FRIEND: I [...]

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Is DOGMA an Oppressive Catholic Word?

January 2, 2016

When I was an Evangelical Protestant, I thought DOGMA was a dirty word. It had bad connotations. It represented unbiblical teaching forced down people’s throats by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. They invented new doctrines not found in the Bible and then called them dogmas and told Christians if they didn’t believe them — [...]

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My Updated Article on Infant Baptism

December 30, 2015

Even among Evangelical Protestants there is much debate about Infant Baptism. My old Baptist tradition rejected it as a Catholic tradition of men. Dr. Francis Schaeffer, my favorite Evangelical Presbyterian theologian wrote a booklet entitled Infant Baptism in favor of the practice – my wife Janet was raised Presbyterian and baptized as an infant. It [...]

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The Bible out of Context: “Saved by Faith Alone”?

November 19, 2015

When reading the Bible devoid of its historical and textual context, there is no context except the context which any person might supply for it. or put otherwise, A text without a context is a pretext. I always get frustrated when self-proclaimed Bible students or teachers start pontificating about the meaning of the Bible and [...]

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Sola Scriptura and the Canon of Scripture

November 3, 2015

Sola Scriptura and the Canon When non-Catholics are asked to provide biblical support or their belief that the Bible Alone is the sole rule of faith for the believer, they usually cite 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which states that “all scripture is God-breathed and is useful”. However, they somehow miss the fact that the two verses [...]

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Purgatory? Doesn’t that Deny the Work of Christ?

September 29, 2015

What’s the Deal with Purgatory? by Steve Ray Isn’t the finished work of Christ sufficient? Didn’t he pay for all my sins? Why the heck do Catholics teach that we have to suffer in Purgatory for our sins? Plus, the Bible never mentions purgatory so it must be an unbiblical doctrine, right. Wow! Sounds like [...]

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A New Creed for the Modern World

September 21, 2015

Everyone knows the ancient Christian creeds are outdated and passé. It is time we have a new creed that fits everyone in our brave new modern world.  We believe that God is in all of us; He has been created in our image We believe that each one must find the truth that is right [...]

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What Do We Mean by “Unanimous Consent of the Fathers”

August 7, 2015

Unanimous Consent of the Fathers By Steve Ray The Unanimous Consent of the Fathers (unanimem consensum Patrum) refers to the morally unanimous teaching of the Church Fathers on certain doctrines as revealed by God and interpretations of Scripture as received by the universal Church. The individual Fathers are not personally infallible, and a discrepancy by [...]

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Salvation by Faith Alone?

July 30, 2015

Since the days of Martin Luther it has been popular to reduce salvation to a sound bite. Salvation is not by works but by “faith alone.” However, the Bible seems to have another idea. In my book CROSSING THE TIBER I mention a few passages from Scripture to give a more biblical perspective. Here is [...]

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