I heard something at church this past Sunday that I had not really pondered before and has taken me several days to digest. The pastor was talking about the birth of Christ and the prophecy related to his birth. A couple of the statements he made forced me to sit up and take notice. I found myself asking, “Did he really say that?”
One of his statements was this – If you don’t believe in the virgin birth of Christ than you cannot call yourself a Christian. Now from creedal standpoint he may be correct. From a practical standpoint I believe he may have misspoken. When was the last time you saw the virgin birth as condition of a persons coming to know Christ? When was the last time you heard a new believer read the Apostles Creed and affirm their understanding and support of it? Many people who come to faith don’t find themselves confronted with the virgin birth often, if at all, except for the Christmas season. Furthermore, if one comes to a saving faith in Christ and then later comes face to face with the virgin birth and finds it difficult to digest, does that then void their earlier profession of faith? If someone is brave enough to say they are not sure, does that strip them of their faith?
Simply put, on the surface the virgin birth presents a few complications. One, the pure miracle of it all pushes the reasonable mind to its limits. Second, Matthew begins his gospel with these words….”The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Now if Jesus is of the genealogy of David and Abraham how can he be of the genealogy of God? If he was the son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, how could he be of the lineage of Abraham or David? Simple questions I know, but somewhat pertinent. Finally, are there faith-ending implications to questioning the virgin birth? Think about it, if it were in any other context other than the Christian context, what would your response be to a story of a virgin impregnated by an entity called the “holy spirit” and giving birth to a reported messiah.
I asked a friend of mine today if she believed it was essential to believe in the virgin birth in order for one to be a Christian. Here response can be summarized like this; “No, it’s not important. Other people believe in God without believing in the virgin birth. Jews for example, believe in God but don’t believe in the virgin birth.” Uhm…..
Now, I suspect she is not alone in her analysis, as weak as it might be. Others in the faith community might have a similarly sincere response. But is it correct? Even those of us who understand the history of the creeds that specify the virgin birth, do we have full understanding of the implication of that statement or is it, like many creeds, words recited without much thought to their content and import?
The pastor’s point was this – if Jesus was not born of a virgin than his birth was like that of any man and he would not be the son of God nor would he be capable of living a sinless life, therefore he would be incapable of being our savior.
My thoughts don’t run along that vein. I suppose they should but they don’t. Often I am more disturbed by Jesus be fully God and fully man. That seems more important. Of course, the argument would be he could not be fully God if he were not virgin born. Really? Why not? If nothing is impossible for God than why would taking a man who lived a righteous life, endow him with the power of divinity and let him live a sinless life be that challenging? More challenging then impregnating a virgin through the Holy Spirit?
Once we pass the opening chapters of the Gospels, there is no mention of the virgin birth that I can see. Jesus never set a condition of believing in his virgin birth as a requirement for faith. In fact, after the birth event Mary is never referred to as the virgin Mary, Mary the virgin mother of Jesus, or any such thing. Furthermore, after the gospels we don’t see Mary- Jesus’ mother mentioned again except in Acts 1:14. Now that seems significant to me.
It is true, the focus on Mary, such as the Catholic tradition promotes is not healthy. She had one role – the vessel of God’s own choosing to carry his son. Once that job was done, there was nothing significant about her role other than that of mother – a loving mother. Nevertheless we seem to have made the conception event a prerequisite to faith.
Now I am not saying the virgin birth is not important to our faith structure. What I am saying is it may not be a crucial factor to our faith structure. Nor am I saying I don’t believe in the virgin birth, I do. But outside of events like Christmas or reciting the Apostle or Nicene Creeds, it seldom crosses my mind. Even then, especially at Christmas, it is not the “virgin” part that attracts me but the God incarnate that moves my heart and mind.
“…You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins!” (Matt. 1:21)