The Religion of Baha'i
This article provide an introduction to the Baha'i religion and how it compares to Christianity. If you want to dig deeper, links to further articles are given at the bottom of the page.
The Origin of Baha'i
The roots of the Baha'i faith go back to a nineteenth-century religion called 'Babism'. Babism, which broke off from the Shiite form of Islam, was founded in 1844 in Persia (now known as Iran). The founder, a young businessman who assumed the title 'Bab' (which means 'the Gate' or door to spiritual truth), began to proclaim a new religious system that took a marked departure from his Islamic roots. For example, he stated that the religious prophets were divine "manifestations" of God himself. He then proclaimed himself a prophet or manifestation of God greater than Muhammad, and claimed that he was sent by God "to replace Muhammad's religion and laws with his own". He also saw himself as a "forerunner" to an even greater manifestation destined to emerge later. This person would be "the World Teacher who would appear to unite mankind and usher in a new era of peace".
The Bab's message fell on responsive ears, and soon he developed a strong following. In fact, the growth of this movement, called the Babis, so alarmed orthodox Muslim leaders that the Bab was arrested. The bulk of his ministry occurred during this six-year prison sentence. The years between 1848 and 1850 were marked by bloody clashes between the Babis and the Persian government. In 1850 the government, in an attempt to eradicate the movement, executed the Bab by firing squad and launched a widespread persecution of his followers. The persecution reached its height in 1852 when the government massacred approximately 20,000 Babis. In spite of this horrible persecution, Babism continued to spread.
Before his death, the Bab had chosen a young disciple to be his successor. The young man, Subh-I-Ezel, was not cut out for leadership and many of his responsibilities were performed by his older half-brother, Mirza Husayn Ali. In 1863, the older half-brother, also a disciple of the Bab, declared himself the World Teacher. In other words, he claimed to be the fulfillment of the Bab's prediction of a coming World Teacher who would unite the world and bring peace. He then assumed the name 'Baha'u'llah' which means 'the glory of God'.
Most of the Babis accepted Baha'u'llah as the World Teacher (and became 'Baha'is'). Some, however, remained loyal to the younger brother. Violent skirmishes occurred between the two factions, and the two leaders accused each other of attempted poisoning. The government sent Subh-I-Ezel, the younger brother, to prison in Cyprus, and the older to prison at Akka (now in Israel). The younger man's following withered away, but Baha'u'llah's following grew in numbers and intensity. This is largely because his disciples, the Baha'is, recorded everything he said over one hundred books and tablets in all, and thus were able to keep spreading the word.
Baha'u'llah spent many years in prison and/or exile, but because of all the recorded teachings his movement continued to grow. He lived to the ripe old age of 75 and died in 1892. His oldest son Abdu'l- Baha was given sole authority to interpret his teachings. He was considered to be infallible in his interpretation of Baha'u'llah's works, and he proved quite successful in spreading the faith outside of the Muslim world.
Major Beliefs in Baha'i
Progressive Revelation Baha'i theology holds to the idea of progressive revelation. In their system there are different manifestations of God during different periods of time. For example, in the Baha'i religion, Abraham was a manifestation of God, but he was followed by Krishna, who was followed by Moses, then by Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, the Bab, and finally by Baha'u'llah. Each manifestation allegedly builds on the previous ones and brings new information and insight to man. Thus God's message to man is progressively revealed and enhanced over time through different prophets. Though each manifestation is considered legitimate and appropriate for its time, in some sense the latter always overrules the former. Baha'is teach that Baha'u'llah is the manifestation to humanity for this time. In accordance with this principle, one of the leading Baha'i teachers said that, "The fundamental principle which constitutes the bedrock of Baha'i belief [is] the principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is orderly, continuous and progressive and not spasmodic or final."
Oneness and Unity The Baha'i faith teaches the oneness of God, the oneness of all religions, and the oneness of mankind. The emphasis on oneness is not window dressing; it is a core concept of the system. Unity is sought, taught, and preached today and is the goal for tomorrow. The mission of Baha'i life is to bring to fruition the unity of all mankind in a divine civilization based on the teachings of Baha'u'llah.
Laws and Obligations Every Baha'i should observe the following laws or obligations:
- Pray every day.
- Observe the Baha'i Fast from sunrise to sunset each day from March 2 through 21.
- Consider work as worship.
- Teach the Cause of God.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks and drugs.
- Observe Baha'i marriage.
- Obey the government and not participate in politics.
- Avoid backbiting and gossip.
- Observe Baha'i Holy Days.
- Contribute to the Baha'i Fund.
The Twelve Principles Baha'i philosophy can be summed up in this statement: "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens." Behind this maxim are the twelve principles of Baha'i thought:
- Oneness of God.
- Oneness of Religion.
- Oneness of Mankind.
- Elimination of prejudice of all kinds.
- Individual search after truth.
- Universal auxiliary language.
- Equality of men and women.
- Universal education.
- Harmony of science and religion.
- Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty.
- World government.
- Protection of cultural diversity.
Extravagant Claims Baha'u'llah made some claims about himself that are breathtaking in their boldness. "He claimed to be the fulfillment not only of all Christian prophecies, but of many Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Muslim prophecies as well. In glory, stature and importance, Baha'u'llah eclipsed Jesus and all other Manifestations. He denied being Almighty God Himself, but taught that he, like all other manifestations, was the only source of divine guidance in his cycle."
Dawning of Peace Baha'is believe that "Mankind is currently headed toward a socio-economic cataclysm. Out of this tragedy a golden age will dawn, and Baha'is will be the only ones prepared to rule in this new world order. 'War shall cease', said Baha'u'llah, 'and all men shall live as brothers'."
Contrasts Between Baha'i and Christianity
God and the Trinity In response to the Christian doctrine of one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Baha'i faith answers a resounding negative. The Baha'i's emphasis on unity (oneness of mankind, oneness of religion, etc.) is true here too. The concept of the Trinity is inconsistent and repugnant to their theology. They attribute the Christian belief in this doctrine to misinterpretation of the Bible. They view God as one person in much the same way as Judaism and Islam.
Jesus Christ To followers of Baha'i, Jesus is one of the great prophets. His manifestation of God superseded the manifestation of Buddha which had superseded the manifestations of Zoroaster, Moses, Krishna, and Abraham, respectively. But then Jesus and His message were superseded; first by Muhammad, then by The Bab, and finally by Baha'u'llah. The idea of Jesus as the unique Son of God, both God and man, is rejected in Baha'i. To them, Jesus is just one of nine manifestations, each of which came to bring more spiritual light to the world. What each one taught was true for his time until he was superseded by a greater manifestation.
The Holy Spirit For Christians the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Triune Godhead, the revealer of truth, who inspired the Scriptures, and empowers believers for Christian service and evangelism. He is also involved in the work of convicting, regenerating, indwelling, baptizing, and sealing believers. Baha'is believe that Christ's promise of another Comforter refers not to the coming of the Holy Spirit, but to the coming of Baha'u'llah (John 14:16).
The Resurrection of Christ In Christianity the central fact is the Resurrection of Christ. Baha'is, however, do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, though they do believe in a future resurrection of all human beings. They do believe that Jesus conquered death spiritually.
Atonement for Sin The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ's death on the cross paid the penalty for sin for all who will believe on (or place their trust in) Christ. Christ bore on His body the penalty of our sin. Forgiveness is a free gift to those who believe; good works are an evidence of the inner faith. In Baha'i, on the other hand, one arrives at what we would call 'salvation' by practicing the "principles laid down by Baha'u'llah and by making every effort through prayer and personal sacrifice to live in accord with the character of the divine being". Even then Baha'is must hope for God's mercy without which "no one would escape the divine judgment".
Heaven and Hell The Bible teaches that there will be a final judgment, that heaven will be the future reward of those who have trusted Christ, and that hell will the future home of those who have rejected Christ. Baha'i teaches that there will be a resurrection and a time of divine judgment. There is also an abode of the righteous, the paradise of God, but there is no concept of eternal flames or hell as taught in the Bible. Those who do not attain to the paradise apparently have the opportunity to progress spiritually until they are worthy of acceptance.
Baha'i's Organization and Goals
The organizational structure of Baha'i
Local Worship Centers In cities large enough to have at least nine adult members of the Baha'i faith, a 'Spiritual Assembly' can be formed to hold official meetings and worship services. Worship services (usually held in homes) normally consist of singing and reading from the works of Baha'u'llah or Abdul Baha. In many countries the Baha'is build a National House of Worship. America has one in Wilmette, Illinois.
The Baha'i World Headquarters is located in Haifa, Israel, on the side of Mt. Carmel. A major building and landscaping program has resulted in a beautiful headquarters for the organization. It serves as a working headquarters as well as a tourist attraction and a very brilliant public relations center in which to expose the religion in a beautiful setting and win friends for the faith. One of those beautiful buildings is the Universal House of Justice, from which the whole ministry is run by an elected nine-person committee elected to five-year terms. Notable among the other buildings are the International Archives and the International Baha'i Library. All this construction on Mt. Carmel seems less strange when you remember that Baha'is believe that this site is to be the center of a coming one-world government and that one day presidents and kings from around the world will come to this site in search of world peace. Also these structures are effective in attracting new members.
The goals of the Baha'i religion
World Unity Some who have studied Baha'i closely are concerned by its organizational structure and its goals of world unity. For example, how is this unity to be achieved? Also, what would happen to those who refused to conform? Some of the statements from its leaders about expecting people to give up personal and national rights are unsettling, to put it mildly. A modern religious movement with global aspirations, but very small in size is not intimidating to anyone. But, let that organization grow and set in place various institutions with power to police and enforce its vision, and the picture changes dramatically. At that point, the possibility for abuse of dissidents is dramatically increased. For this reason, Baha'i bears close watching. Some have commented that the goals of political and religious unity and of universal submission to the Baha'i leadership sound similar to the oppressive false world church system that will exist in the Last Days. (For more information, see the Book of Revelation.)
One World "When Baha'is talk about the unity of mankind, or about one world, the Kingdom of God, they do not mean a mere mood or ethos of togetherness. They mean an international political empire of which the Baha'i Faith would be the state religion." In fact, Baha'is intend to institute "a Baha'i world Super-State, a commonwealth in which all the peoples of the world would be subject to a single global authority. All nations would waive their national sovereignty and cede key rights to the Baha'i world Super-state."
After the historian Arnold Toynbee examined the Baha'i faith, he came to believe that it could be the future world religion. Others have expressed similar thoughts. Though Baha'i seems small and innocuous at present, if it grows in size and influence to the point that it could succeed in its aims of unifying the world under its own terms, it could be a sinister force.
Weaknesses in the Religion of Baha'i
An Impersonal and Unknowable God In Baha'i, God is impersonal and unknowable. In Christianity, God is the believer's Father. Jesus spoke of God using a familiar, intimate term, 'Abba', which means, 'Daddy'. The Muslim and the Baha'i know nothing of this intimacy.
No Assurance of Salvation In Baha'i, it is impossible to know whether or not you are spared from judgment and will go to the Paradise of God. Christians can know that we are forgiven and going to heaven (1 John 5:11-13). This knowledge is based not on our merit but on the mercy of God to all who will trust Christ as their sin-bearer. Apart from biblical Christianity which focuses on Christ's death, burial, and resurrection in payment for our sins, no religion, no philosophy, no program on earth has really dealt with man's sin problem. To the Baha'i, the Christian believer's claim of assurance of salvation is presumptuous. But this is a typical reaction of all non-Christian religions and cults because they all teach a program of works with no assurance of salvation.
Is the Baha'i God fickle and changeable? Why are many "manifestations of God" necessary? According to the Bible, God never changes (He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, Hebrews 13:8), and human nature doesn't change or evolve. The Baha'i faith, however, holds that the manifestations were given because of different needs in different times of human history. It also teaches that after enough time has passed mankind has learned sufficiently from one cycle and needs to grow and be stretched by a new "manifestation of God".
Was Baha'u'llah an opportunist or a manifestation of God? How is it believable that the manifestation of Baha'u'llah followed that of the Bab by less than twenty years? Could mankind have grown, progressed, and mastered his teachings so rapidly? Hardly. For one thing, few outside of the Middle East had even heard of the Bab and his new religion. Furthermore, the Bab himself had predicted that the next manifestations after him would be many years (1,511 and 2,001 years) in the future. Note that he mentioned two manifestations. No wonder many of the Babis were surprised and rejected Baha'u'llah's claim.
There are many facts that we could cover, but this information in this essay is sufficient to show the open-minded person that the religion of Baha'i has some real credibility problems. There are, however, many noble-minded, sweet people in this cult who deserve to hear the truth in love and gentleness so they can be free from the grip of this false religion.
In a chapter on Baha'i from his book The Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin summarized in sad and melancholy fashion the emptiness of the Baha'i faith:
There was no virgin born Son, there was only a Persian student; there was no miraculous ministry, there was only the loneliness of exile; there was no power over demons, there were only demons of Islam; there was no redeeming Saviour, there was only a dying old man; there was no risen Saviour, there was only Abdul Baha; there was no Holy Spirit, there was only the memory of the prophet; there was no ascended High Priest, there was only the works of the flesh; and there was no coming King, there was only the promise of a new era.
. John Boykin, 'The Baha'i Faith', in Ronald Enroth, et al., A Guide to Cults and New Religions (Downers Grove, Ill.:InterVarsity, 1983), p.26.
. Edmond C. Gruss, 'Baha'i', Cults and the Occult (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 1974, 3d ed., rev. and enl., 1994), pp.146-47.
. Boykin, p.26.
. Ibid., p.27.
. Boykin, p.28.
. Official Baha'i booklet, The Baha'i Faith (Wilmette, Ill.: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1981).
. Bob Larson Book of Cults. (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1982), p.147.
. The Baha'i Faith.
. Boykin, p.29.
. Larson, p.147, emphasis mine.
. Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany Fellowship, 1965), p.256.
. John Boykin, p.30.
. Ibid., pp.30-31.
. Ibid., p.31.
. William Miller, cited in Gruss, p.148.
. Martin, p.257.
© 1997 Probe Ministries
For further information on the Baha'i religion, see the series of articles on Baha'i at the Christian Apologetics and Research ministry (CARM).
Further information on Baha'i beliefs and practice can be found at the international website for the Baha'i faith: http://www.bahai.org/.