Al Mohler wrote these lines the other day (from “Must We Believe in the Virgin Birth?”):
All those who find salvation will be saved by the atoning work of Jesus the Christ — the virgin-born Savior. Anything less than this is just not Christianity, whatever it may call itself. A true Christian will not deny the Virgin Birth.
John Byron took this as his cue to ask reader of his blog, “Must you believe in the virgin birth to be a Christian.” When I checked last it seemed that most people who commented said “no”, but there was caution from some that this doesn’t mean that the doctrine isn’t important, merely that our status as Christians is determined by “…what Jesus did, not what Mary didn’t do” as one person put it. Personally, I agree with those who say that affirming or denying the virgin conception/birth doesn’t make a Christian, but that is because I think it is a work of the Holy Spirit for one to become a Christian, not our current stance on doctrine. So in this sense I disagree with Mohler.
That being said, I don’t think that some people denying the virgin conception or struggling to affirm it demands that it be set aside as an orthodox confession. The virgin conception does protect against heresies like Adoptionism and Nestorianism. Sure, sure, there are passages in Scripture that can be used to support these errors (e.g. the baptism of Christ is important for adoptionistic Christology), but the catholic “Rule of Faith” seems to have filtered out these views over time leaving us with the orthodox Christology that many of us confess today.
I see a partial analogy with the Pledge of Allegiance. It is a national confession that citizens pledge allegiance to the flag of this country and the Republic for which it stands–”one nation, under God, indivisible…” Many individuals may say, “I’m atheist, so how can I affirm our nation stands “under God” and while reciting this “creed” they personally cannot affirm those words. This doesn’t prevent it from being a national creed though. This crude analogy may give some insight into how the virgin conception may be a “Christian confession” even if some or many Christians do not or cannot confess it. As my citizenship is determined by my birth into this country, and not my willingness to affirm every line of the Pledge of Allegiance, so someone’s citizenship in the Kingdom of God is determined by a “new birth” in the Spirit and not their adherence to every aspect of all creeds.
I have said more about this in a previous post titled “It’s not your creed. It’s the creed of the church.”
Personally, I submit myself to the church catholic on matters like the virgin conception even if I struggle to understand or believe it at times. I don’t think my personal beliefs change what the church should teach. Yet the church’s safeguarding of the story as the responsibility of the church is not (in my opinion) one and the same with the saving work of God. So I willingly recite along with the Apostle’s Creed that Jesus was “…conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary” and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed that Jesus was “…was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary…”, but I know God saves and God alone, not creeds.