A Christian Response to Bahaism by Francis Beckwith

Here is a brief, yet remarkably thorough treatment of the Bahai Faith. Beckwith first presents a historical review, noting the most important events crucial in the formative years of this movement. Secondly, he examines the main doctrines of Bahai Faith in the light of Scriptures, along with the Bahai’s use of the Bible in defence of their religion.

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In addition, he asks several important questions concerning the relationship between Christianity and Bahaism

  1. Can the teachings of Jesus be placed into their structure without damage to their original intent.
  2. Is their use of the Bible legitimate, compelling or successful
  3. Apart from personal assurance, does the Bahai religion have objective evidence upon which to rest its beliefs?

This is a remarkable incisive work. Mr Beckwith’s research of the Bahai movement will face any honest member to take a serious “second look” at what he has been taught

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Shoghi Effendi : Baha’is should discontinue observing holidays as Christmas and New Years

Bahais have been busy in Haifa, Israel celebrating Christmas (Read more). However this is in direct contravention to the command from Shoghi Effendi – the erstwhile guardian of the Bahai Faith. He said,

“As regards the celebration of the Christian Holiday by the believers; it is surely preferable and even highly advisable that the friends should in their relation to each other discontinue observing such holidays as Christmas and New Years, and to have their festival gatherings of this nature instead during the Intercalary Days and Naw-Rúz….”
(Shoghi Effendi)

Are the Bahais going to comply?

Lessons for Christians in the history of the Bahai faith

This is an article by Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist). He has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.

When I was confirmed into the Church of England in 1984 I asked some Baha’is I met at their firesides to come along. None did. In the end I fell out with the Baha’is as I discovered academic material that presented their history differently from their own. They are very committed to the preservation of their history as monitored by the Universal House of Justice, the nine seater male-only assembly meant to be a combined secular and religious decision making body for the world, elected without campaigns by the National Spiritual Assemblies below them, these elected by delegates from the Local Spiritual Assemblies below them. It is a very conserving system, a sort of democratic centralism: what the top level says goes.

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Bahai Faith: Bahai-Christian Dialogue

By Francis Beckwith

One religious group to originate in the past two centuries that has not received enough attention from evangelical Christians is the Baha’i World Faith.1 Baha’is believe that all of the world’s major religions are progressive revelations from God, each designed for its particular historical era. The Baha’i religion teaches that Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Muhammad, and the Bab (the Persian founder of a nineteenth-century religious movement which laid the foundation for Baha’ism) were all prophets or manifestations of God for their time.2 However, Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i religion, the successor of the Bab, and the most recent manifestation, is the one who should now be revered and obeyed.

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Baha’u’llah’s greatest teaching was the oneness and unity of mankind. According to Baha’u’llah, every race, both sexes, and the great religious truths all come from one God. While Christians may appreciate some of the humanitarian and peace doctrines of the Baha’is, they take issue with the Baha’i claim to compatibility with their faith; for Baha’ism denies several essential Christian doctrines. Since the publication of my Christian response to the Baha’i World Faith, Baha’i (Bethany House, 1985), I have had several encounters with both Baha’is and non-Baha’is who have questioned my position on a number of key issues regarding the relationship between Baha’ism and Christianity. For example, in a detailed critique of my book, Steve McConnell, a non-Baha’i from Bellevue, Washington, asked me, “Could Christianity’s conception of God withstand the cursory logical tests to which you subject the Baha’i’s God?”3

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Walter Martin – Excerpt from Kingdom of the Cults

The Baha’i Faith is a non-Christian cult of distinctly foreign origin that began in Iran in the nineteenth century with a young religious Iranian businessman known as Mirza’ Ali Muhammad, who came to believe himself to be a divine manifestation projected into the world of time and space as a “Bab” (Gate) leading to a new era for mankind.

As Christianity, almost since its inception, has had heretics and heresies within its fold, so Islam was destined to experience the same fragmenting forces. Mirza’ Ali Muhammad, alias the “Bab,” thus became one of the sorest thorns in the flesh of Islamic orthodoxy; so much so that he was murdered by Islamic fanatics in 1850 at the age of thirty-one. He had derived much of his early encouragement and support from a small Islamic sect in Iran, and he was a prominent teacher among them for six years prior to his death. Though Christians have not been known historically for putting to death those who disagreed with them (notable exceptions are the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Inquisition, and certain phases of the Crusades), violence may generally be said to follow in the wake of “new” revelations in most other religions, and unfortunately, in the case of Mirza’ the pattern held true.

So then, the history of the Baha’i Faith began with the stupendous claims of a young Iranian to the effect that “the religious leaders of the world had forgotten their common origin. … Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed were equal prophets, mirroring God’s glory, messengers bearing the imprint of the Great Creator.” 1

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A Christian Perspective of Bahai Faith

There is very little indeed that a true Christian can have in common with the faith of Bahai. There is simply no common ground on which to meet … The Bahai faith is at its very core anti-Christian theology.

The Bahai faith originated in Iran (Persia) in 1844 when a Moslem, Mirza ‘Ali Muhammed, announced that he was the forerunner of the World Teacher, who would appear to unite mankind and bring a new era of peace. He assumed the title of “Bab” (the Persian word for “Gate”). He was prosecuted and executed by the Moslems and the Persian Government for forming a new Moslem sect.

One of his disciples, Mirza Husayn ‘Ali, when an exile in Baghdad, proclaimed himself the prophesied World Teacher and took the name Baha’u’llah which means “The Glory of God”. The name Bahai faith is derived from that title. The world headquarters of the Bahai faith is in Haifa, Israel.

If we condense the teachings of this faith, we find that they revolve around three basic principles:

  1. The oneness of God.
  2. The oneness of religion.
  3. The oneness of mankind.

The “Bab” taught that he replaced Muhammed as God’s prophet and that he formed a new religion. This “new religion” subsequently was abrogated by Bahaullah, according to whom, the fundamental are:

  1. The independent search after truth, unhindered by superstition or tradition.
  2. The oneness of the entire human race.
  3. The basic unity of all religions.
  4. The condemnation of all forms of prejudice whether religious, racial, class or national.
  5. Harmony must exist between religion and science.
  6. The equality of men and women.
  7. The introduction of compulsory education.
  8. The adoption of a universal auxiliary language.
  9. The abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty.
  10. The institution of work to the rank of worship.
  11. The glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society and religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations.

This sounds good and few people will object to some of these principles. But the crux of the problem is that in its basic beliefs Bahai collides head-on with Biblical Christianity. It rejects the cardinal doctrines of the Bible such as:

  1. The Trinity of God (which Islam also rejects),
  2. the Deity of Christ as one of the Persons in the Godhead,
  3. the virgin birth of Jesus;
  4. the bodily resurrection of Christ;
  5. the fact that Jesus died as the Lamb of God for the sins of all men and women;
  6. salvation by faith in Jesus alone,
  7. the final authority of the Bible and the Second Coming of Christ.

A Bible-believing Christian cannot believe that Jesus Christ is given a place in Bahai as only one of the prophets. He is the Divine Son of God. Read John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 3:11; 1:20; Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 13:8.

Furthermore, Bahai’s teaching of the oneness of religion is not Biblical. Christianity cannot compromise its teachings to accommodate the doctrines of the Hindu religion, Islam, or any other religion. None of them, including Bahai, accepts the teaching of the Bible concerning the lost state of man because of sin, and that the work of Christ in the redemption of lost sinners is directly related to this sinful nature (Isaiah 64:6; John 1:29; 3:14-17; Romans 3:23).

Dr Walter Martin, who studied Bahaism, came to the following conclusion in his book “The Kingdom of the Cults”: “There is very little indeed that a true Christian can have in common with the faith of Bahai. There is simply no common ground on which to meet … The Bahai faith is at its very core anti-Christian theology.”

Lessons for Christians in the History of the Bahai Faith

By Adrian Worsfold

When I was confirmed into the Church of England in 1984 I asked some Baha’is I met at their firesides to come along. None did. In the end I fell out with the Baha’is as I discovered academic material that presented their history differently from their own. They are very committed to the preservation of their history as monitored by the Universal House of Justice, the nine seater male-only assembly meant to be a combined secular and religious decision making body for the world, elected without campaigns by the National Spiritual Assemblies below them, these elected by delegates from the Local Spiritual Assemblies below them. It is a very conserving system, a sort of democratic centralism: what the top level says goes.

Very quickly summarising: the origins of the Baha’i Faith are in the Babi faith that developed out of Shia Islam in Iran and Iraq. They were waiting for the return of the Hidden Twelfth Imam and a Holy War for the victory of Islam. In 1844 Sayyid Ali Muhammed Shrirazi claimed to be the Bab, the Gateway to the returning Imam. When he didn’t appear at Karbala, Sayyid Ali Muhammed escalated his status in stages to the Imam, then the Prophet and then superseding to a new Manifestation of God. The movement was surrounded by violence, and started much of it themselves. The Bab appointed Mirza Yahya (or Sub-i-Azal) to be his successor, but after the Bab was killed by the authorities the violence continued and the movement was in severe decline. Sub-i-Azal’s half brother, Mirza Husayn Ali, an elite Persian convert, built up his own faction and in 1863 he, Baha’u’llah (Glory of God) announced himself as the Bab’s next Manifestation of God. The authorities never left either faction alone, and the Azalis ended up in Cyprus and the Baha’is at Palestine. However, Baha’u’llah, in the course of the compulsory travels and his declaration to the few and then the world of his status, read Sufi and New Testament material, and completely remodelled the faith as it came into the Western orbit, making itself syncretistic in character, peaceful and expecting the unification of the world.

Baha’u’llah died in 1892, and Abbas Effendi, his eldest son, or Abdul-Baha, became the leader and only interpreter or “Centre of the Covenant”. Here there was factionalism, as a group known as the Unitarians (people of the Book, not Abdul-Baha’s interpretations) broke out and were excommunicated. The Young Turks’ victory meant an end to imprisonment, and Abdul Baha became a traveller around the West even more spiritualising and Westernising the movement, and was a charismatic figure as he attended mosques, Christian and Unitarian (the other sort) churches and synagogues.

After he died Shoghi Effendi became the first Guardian. Some Germans did not accept the validity of Abdul Baha’s will appointing him and so the Free Baha’is emerged for a time. Shoghi Effendi should have had a serving Universal House of Justice under him, but he did not set it up. He should have left a will, but either he didn’t or it never appeared. So when he died in 1957 there was a crisis of leadership, after which in 1963 the Universal House of Justice was formed and took to itself powers of the Guardian, most importantly the sole power to interpret and the power to excommunicate.

The chief of Hands of the Cause, a forerunner to the UHJ, Mason Remey, thought he should be the new Guardian. Factions have arisen ever since from that branch, including one that now thinks the second Guardian was presumptive, but so was the Universal House of Justice taking power to itself.

The UHJ produces plans for growth. The millennial nature of the Bahai Faith is that it expects the Most Great Peace to arrive (instead we had George Bush) and a tipping point where “troops” of people convert to the Bahai Faith. Unfortunately, the Bahai Faith has been born in a rather irreligious age in Europe, and other than some growth in developing countries, Europe has been slow and with a high turnover of members. Plus, the UHJ in Haifa has a habit of turning members who don’t submit to censorship panels into covenant breakers. There are also quite a few people who find themselves mysteriously removed from the rolls of membership, but in the age of the Internet they continue the faith themselves with new freedom, the name Baha’i being in the public realm. A problem for the Haifa Baha’is is that only they can raise money for themselves, and members who can participate in Feasts as well as Firesides find themselves locked into administration details: the Baha’i Faith is an “Administrative Order” after all.

So at each stage of leadership transition elite groups have competed and been excluded, and it is reasonable to say that the quest for unity has been a failure because of its high cost in factions and breakaways, and now there is a more relaxed Bahaism emerging of excluded or drifter individuals. It matters not that the Universal House of Justice only recognises itself as legitimate, because anyone can read the Kitab-i-Iqan and Kitabi-i-Aqdas and the published materials that Shoghi Effendi translated into his strained olde-worlde English. Even infallibility is being questioned by individuals let loose.

The Bahai Faith is useful for Christians and Christian theology in a number of ways.

First of all we see something of a parallel in the Bab as a kind of announcer of a new manifestation, although he became what he expected. He gets positioned like a John the Baptist, and probably John the Baptist was his own man too. Then we have the central manifestation (Incarnation) figure, Baha’u’llah. Then we have the very important St. Paul figure, who becomes such an important interpreter and spreader into new cultures and giving a further twist to the faith.

Then we have the issue of authority. There is something of the Pope in the Guardian, of course, but the UHJ is like Orthodoxy or Roman Catholic centralism – with knobs on. In fact it is very Weberian-bureaucratic, and very pyramidal. Weber regarded such with great pessimism: it was anti the life-giving enchantment that he thought religion supplied.

The other lesson is that of allowing theology to grow organically and in diversity. There is a distinct double identity problem of Baha’i member scholarship in secular institutions including that of religious studies departments. It does the Baha’i Faith no favours. We see similar with some Roman Catholics. If Christians become more subject to such pressures of membership conformity, then there is a distortion to both the academic sphere and to the representational sphere.

I also suggest that Christians should express the truth as they find it even when it conflicts with doctrines or interpretations of the Bible. If there is some compelling finding about, say, the Jesus of history as an endtime Jewish rabbi, then this should come first, or at least people should be honest about the layer-cake nature of doctrines or how people interpret the Bible.

Older faiths have developed more maturity with time. They can sit light and worry less about how their faiths are represented. Or at least this is what we thought, as the Christian world gave rise to a secular and plural world.

There are pressures to go along a road of such as the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. There is a narrowing of what is legitimate expression of a faith, and there are calls for excluding those who are not biblical enough. An Anglican Communion, properly understood, would become a World Wide Anglican Church with authoritative statements handed down, with again distant high-up forms of selection of those with centralised power.

Who knows how these developments will work out. The Baha’is could not predict their own future, despite the claimed infallibility of the words of both their Manifestation of God and Centre of the Covenant. So Anglicans cannot predict theirs! Nevertheless, if secularisation and plurality lead down the road to authoritarianism and centralisation, there are going to be quite a few Anglican Communion Covenant Breakers who will continue to define the faith in a broad way, however they organise, meet and link up together.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.