It never ceases to amaze me that so many people seem to think that The United Methodist Church doesn't have any doctrinal standards. As I have said, time and time again, our doctrinal and theological heritage is very rich and very old indeed. However, from time to time it is seems as though various individuals and agencies (especially from outside our denomination) seem to see it as their "duty" to label The United Methodist Church, and her 8 and a half million members here in the US, as either "apostate" or "theologically corrupt." At the risk of sounding a bit defensive, nothing could be further from the truth.
For some reason -- and I really wish someone would tell me why certain people persist in attacking us so consistently -- for some reason it is, again, being claimed in various circles that: "Methodists don't believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus." Perhaps it's just that we're coming up on Christmas time, but thus far I've had 3 people ask me this same question, two at church and one over the phone a few hours later. As annoying as these kinds of silly questions are, they do provide me with an opportunity to illustrate that all of these vicious claims concerning our denomination's lack of faithfulness are, for the most part, hogwash designed, I'm convinced, to try and lure people away from the Church.
Now, it must be admitted that there have been some Methodists who have cast doubts upon many of the ancient, orthodox doctrines of our faith. But, such cannot be used as a justification for the all-encompassing statement that "Methodists don't believe....." That some Methodists don't believe in the Virgin birth is an undeniable, though regrettable, fact. The same can be said of some Baptists, some Presbyterians, some Episcopalians ... I could go on and on. The simple truth is that there are always some in our denomination (as in, probably, all denominations) who don't feel comfortable upholding either the traditional language of our historic doctrines, or the actual content of the "apostolic faith." This is nothing new -- over the centuries the Church Universal has had to contend with, and in some cases accept, varying degrees of latitude regarding doctrinal integrity. In some cases this latitude has been wide, while in other cases it has been quite narrow. The United Methodist Church has never been a denomination which "cracked down" on the strict letter of our Articles of Religion, although there was a time when clergy could be removed from their ministries for preaching and teaching "against the doctrines of our faith." We have always allowed a degree of latitude on how we interpret our doctrines.
Which brings us back to where we started. What does The United Methodist Church teach about the Virgin Birth of Jesus? Well, aside from the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, with which we affirm our Faith nearly every Sunday, we find that the Articles of Religion tell us, clearly, about the nature of the Person and Work of Jesus, and about his birth. Judge for yourself: does the following doctrinal statement reflect what you believe about the Virgin Birth?
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.... (Article II)
While this only a part of the second Article of Religion, it tells us what we need to know regarding our position on the subject of the Virgin Birth. Based this official doctrinal statement, our denomination clearly believe the historic doctrine of the Virgin Birth.
In this season, when we prepare for the coming of Jesus into our lives, let us turn to the wonderful Good News of the Incarnation of our Lord. God was in Christ Jesus, revealing the Love of God to the World and reconciling the World to God. As we celebrate Christmas, let us always remember that the incarnation of God in human flesh is the reason we celebrate ... God is with us! Praise the Lord!
© 1995, Rev. Gregory S. Neal
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