Q: Does bringing a dead body, which is unclean, into God’s house for a funeral defile the church? — Isaac, from Kenya
A: It is true that the church is the house of God — a house of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7), and that God is present in our worship of Him there. However, there is a difference between the Christian churches whether now or in the first century, and the Jerusalem temple, which had very specific Mosaic laws for worshippers who would approach God there. If, for example, a Jew touched a dead body he would be unclean for seven days, and would need to wash themselves before they would be clean again and permitted to enter the temple grounds (Numbers 19:11-13).
Obviously, if a person was not to enter the precincts of the temple after having touched a corpse, it would be unthinkable to bring a dead body there. That is why people felt safe who were in danger of losing their life to grab the horns of the altar for safety (1 Kings 1:50-53). Imagine also the horror when Zechariah was killed between the temple and the altar (Matthew 23:35)!
But when Jesus died on the cross as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), type (the animal sacrifice) was fulfilled by the antitype (Jesus’ sacrifice for us) and the purpose of the sacrificial services was fulfilled. That is why the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom by no human hand (Mark 15:37, 38), which was God’s sign that sacrifice and offering were at an end (Daniel 9:25, 26).
The ceremonial laws connected with the temple ceased, including the laws pertaining to ceremonial uncleanness (Hebrews 10:5-9). This is different from the laws about clean and unclean foods. Unclean animals were always unclean, and there were no laws about cleansing them. But people were never permanently “unclean.”
Today, we do not follow these ceremonial regulations because the temple and its services are fulfilled at the cross and through Christ’s high priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. Therefore, a corpse is not unclean in the biblical sense. No one and no thing (such as a church) can be defiled by its presence.