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Doctrinal Dialogue:

The Virgin Birth


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The Importance of the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth

Cathy A. Bihler

Quote: What is at stake in Christianity with the doctrine of the Virgin Birth?

If  I were to try to put a "nutshell" definition on Christianity, my first thoughts turn to God - Who He Is. Then, I think about who we are, and the relationship between God and us. The Christian Faith is lived out by people who believe that God is Our Creator[1] and that He is Father/Son/Holy Spirit[2]. The Christian Faith is lived out by people who believe that humanity is totally "messed up" by sin[3] and that only Jesus Christ can and does save us from this human condition[4]. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is both the Son of God and the Son of Man: Fully God and yet Fully Human[5]. Christians believe that when people accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell with them[6] and teach them and sanctify them, helping them become the people that God created them to be[7].

God has created humans and enjoyed personal, interactive, and loving relationship with the first of His created humans: Adam and Eve. They chose to disobey God's commandment and brought sin and death upon themselves[8] and to all who were born after them and even to all of the created world[9]. They were removed from the holy Garden of Eden[10]. Now separated by sin from Holy God, how is the relationship restored?

Ever since that day - the fall of humanity from the good and beautiful beginning - God has been busy revealing Himself to us and working for our redemption and total reconciliation. He loves us of His own free will and chooses to give us free will to either:

1. Return our love to Him[11], demonstrating our love by choosing to obey His directions for a holy life[12]. This option includes becoming sons and daughters of God, adopted heirs, and spend eternity in heaven with Him and all the angels and all the other saints[13]. This option includes being forgiven for all that we have done wrong, cleansed and purified from the effects of our sins, becoming holy and righteous[14]. This option includes entering the Kingdom of God now[15] and working toward sanctification[16] and loving others as God has loved us[17]. This option includes a future entering into heaven in fully resurrected bodies[18] designed to last forever with love and light and life and joy and peace[19]; or

2. Chase after what we want: other things, other gods[20]. We can choose options of self-idolatry or self-made idols[21], which we think will bring joy and satisfaction and love, but will actually bring eternal death[22]. Eternal death is experienced in a place that is as far opposite from heaven as is possible - -hell[23]. This place is described by God as a pit of fire, a place where the devil and death are going to be placed on the final Day of Judgment[24]. This option includes being judged by God as sinful and unholy and, therefore, as ones who have chosen the ways of the devil, belong where the devil is judged to go[25].

God has chosen to reveal Who He Is through the lives and actual historical events of people, particularly in a people who came to be known as Israelites, descendents of Abraham and Sarah[26]. The history of the People of God, their successes and failures (which depended upon their personal and faithful relationship with God)[27] are recorded for us in the Bible.

When the time was right[28], God Himself came down from heaven, in the Person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth[29], born of Mary[30], a virgin Israelite, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph.[31]

Jesus Christ, the Messiah[32], The Word of God[33], Who Always Was and Is and Always Will Be[34], willingly left heaven, emptied and humbled Himself and came into the world as a vulnerable baby[35], born to a young Jewish woman, Mary[36], who consented to this most amazing thing. "Let it be unto me," she said, believing the angel's message[37]. Her fiancé, Joseph, too, agreed to this arrangement and consented to continue the engagement and to take her as his wife and raise this Holy Child, the Son of God[38].

One day, the Holy Spirit "overshadowed" Mary and she became pregnant, "with child". She was a virgin, which means that she did not have sex with her fiancé, nor with any man, and yet she became pregnant through and by the power of God. This unique Child, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. This Child, was named Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

The NICVOICE presentation makes this comment:

Quote: If the Virgin birth did not happen, then Jesus’ father is unknown.

I know Who Jesus' Father Is. I cannot explain how the Son "emptied Himself" or how the Holy Spirit "overshadowed" Mary and conceived the boy child named Jesus. I know that the faith of Mary was extraordinary and that of all women[39], Yahweh chose her to carry His Only Begotten Son. I know that the faith of Joseph, who was a righteous man, was also extraordinary and it was his faith in God and the message from the angel that led him to marry a woman who was "with a Child" not his own.

I know these things because the Bible, the Holy Scriptures say so. Christians believe that the Holy Bible is God's Book for God's People and that they contain truth that can be relied on for eternal life. In addition, the Holy Spirit testifies to me that these things written are truth[40]. I am convicted in my spirit and I choose to believe and act in accordance with my beliefs. I stake my personal life on what the Bible says.

So, what is at stake in Christianity with the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth? Everything Christian: Jesus Christ and the understanding of Who He Is.

Jesus taught His Disciples many, many things. He demonstrated Who He Is by what He taught and what He did. After Jesus was crucified, dying a horrible criminal's death, He was resurrected. He was dead for three days and was resurrected. He appeared to His followers, who recognized Him, ate with him, and listened to more of His lessons and directions as to what to do next. He ascended into heaven and left his followers with a command: to pick up where He left and go out into all the world and make Disciples of Jesus Christ, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit[41].

As the followers of Jesus went about doing just that, they did not agree with each other. They had to discern, as a group, what was correct (Doctrine) and what was incorrect (Heresy). Not an easy task, considering that they were persecuted, imprisoned, killed, etc. for their beliefs. Persecution has a tendency to scatter people and send them into hiding and work quietly to spread the Good News so as to reach as many people as possible. Yet, Christianity did spread because of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, the Christian faith became legal and it was possible for the leaders of the church to gather and determine which teachings were correct and which were incorrect.

Two creeds became established in the Christian Faith: The Nicene Creed and The Apostles Creed. I want to present the Nicene Creed here.


The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son
is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in the only holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism
for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Nicene Creed was adopted by the Council of Nicaea in 325. This contemporary version (above) of the creed reflects the modifications made in the creed at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

Before all the "splits" and denominations of Christianity came into being, the Church set about declaring what Christians believed. The early Christians, the Church, has wrestled with various theologies and declared what Christians believe.

The Nicene Creed is an official "nutshell" of the Christian Faith. This is what Christians believe. There is a big section in the Creed about Jesus Christ - - these beliefs are all essential. None can be omitted and remain Christian.

Jesus is both Fully God and Fully Human. Fully God: Of one being with the Father. Fully Human: he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.

The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church states the following in Paragraph 103, Article II - Of the Word, or Son of God, Who Was Made Very Man:

The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided; whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also of actual sins of men.

Bishop Sprague "dissents" from the Christian faith when he says:

"Thus, if the Virgin Birth did not occur in a physical historical sense, if Jesus were born of human parents, as I affirm he was, and if Jesus did not possess trans-human supernatural powers, as I do not believe he did..." and "this powerful myth was not intended as historical fact, but was employed by Matthew and Luke in different ways to point poetically to the Truth about Jesus as experienced in the emerging Church."

Bishop Sprague is entitled to his own beliefs - but they are not Christian. These same views have been held by others over thousands of years and have been ruled by the Church as heretical. So, it is not surprising that charges of heresy have been brought against him. I believe that the outcome of the latest trial is unsatisfactory to God and will also be ultimately found unsatisfactory to the whole of the UMC. Here we are, struggling again, even as the early Church struggled, deciding what we will allow to be taught within the walls of our local churches.

Holding these heretical beliefs, as Sprague does, a man of integrity would step down from his position as a United Methodist Bishop and leave the UMC. A Bishop of the UMC vows to defend the Christian faith in the Methodist tradition, not dissent from it. How a man can be divided against himself in such respects beyond me to understand. It's got to be pretty painful. Jesus said that we can't serve two masters - - we will have to love one and hate the other. Sprague has set himself against the Christian faith and the UMC's Book of Discipline (which contains Articles of Faith consistent with Christianity). Sprague took the time to write a book to explain his position, he demonstrates beliefs contrary to the Book of Discipline in thought, word, and deed. It isn't really apparent to me which master he serves, but it's not Jesus Christ. Sprague's religion is built on sinking sand - a human-only-Jesus. It can't stand. It was dismantled by the church hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

How a loving church can allow such a person to remain a Bishop and add to his condemnation by allowing him to teach the innocent flock heresies, is also beyond my comprehension. This has to change. God is giving us time to do the right, but difficult, thing. I'm praying for the Holy One of Israel to move in our hearts and minds and have the same kind of tough love that God demonstrates - discipline by removal until repentance is demonstrated.

As for me and my family: I love the Lord Jesus - Fully God / Fully Man. We will serve the Lord. I find my faith to be in full concert with the Doctrinal Standards of the UMC and I'm standing here. I have no problem directing my gifts and service to the UMC. It is my joy to do so. For the Lord has called me here and this is my home. All my efforts will be directed in accordance with the Christian faith, in the Methodist tradition. I do not pretend to have all the answers nor all wisdom. I simply love the One Who Does: Jesus Christ. I do not know how much further transformation that God has in store for me as I press forward, eagerly taking hold of His hand. I do know from whence I came. And I know in Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against That Day.[42].

[1] Scripture references provided are not intended to be exhaustive, but a starting point for Bible Study and reflection.  Genesis 1,2; John 1.
[2] John 14; Mark 1.
[3] Genesis 3, 6; Ezekiel 32; Matthew 5; Romans 5; 1 John 3.
[4] Isaiah 52, 53; Matthew 1; Luke 19; John 10, 11; Acts 14.
[5] Isaiah 9; Micah 5; Isaiah 61; Matthew 16, 17; John 1; Colossians 1, 2; Hebrews 1, 2
[6] John 14; Acts 2.
[7] John 3, 16; Acts 10, 19; 1 Corinthians 12, 14; 1 John 4.
[8] Genesis 3.
[9] Romans 5.
[10] Genesis 3.
[11] Joshua 24.
[12] Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5; John 14; 1 John 5
[13] Galatians 3, 4; Romans 8.
[14] Matthew 9; Luke 5; Romans 5; 1 John 1; 1 Peter 1; 2 Peter 5;
[15] Mark 1; Mark 10; Luke 10;  Acts 8.
[16] John 17; 1 Thessalonians 5.
[17] Matthew 5; Mark 12.
[18] Matthew 22; Acts 24; Revelation 20
[19] Matthew 6; Luke 23; John 14; Revelation 21, 22.
[20] Matthew 19; Luke 12;
[21] Galatians 5; Colossians 3; 1 Peter 4
[22] Romans 1.
[23] Luke 16.
[24] Revelation 20.
[25] Matthew 13, 22; Luke 13; Revelation 20.
[26] Genesis 12, 15; Galatians 4.
[27] Judges 17, 21; Acts 13.
[28] Galatians 4; Ephesians 1.
[29] Philippians 2.
[30] Isaiah 7; Matthew 1.
[31] Luke 1, 2.
[32] Matthew 1, 26, 27; John 20; Acts 2, 3, 5, 17, 18; Ephesians 2, 3; 1 John 2, 5; Revelation 20.
[33] John 1.
[34] John 1; Revelation 1.
[35] John 10; Philippians 2
[36] Luke 1.
[37] Luke 1.
[38] Matthew 1.
[39] Luke 1.
[40] Romans 8; Hebrews 10; 1 John 5.
[41] Matthew 27, 28; Mark 15, 16; Luke 22, 23,24
2 Timothy 1:12b