Also See Section on Bahai
What is the Baha'i Faith?
The Baha'i Faith is a young, widely distributed, fast growing, independent world religion that believes in the oneness of God, the oneness of religion and the oneness of humanity, and practices social activism. The Baha'i Faith follows the teachings of Baha'u'llah who is their ultimate prophet and the latest Great Manifestation of God. The Baha'i Faith has historical connections to the Babi religion and Shi'ite Islam but has moved beyond both of these middle-eastern religious traditions. Baha'u'llah, whose title means "glory of God," founded the Baha'i Faith in Persia (modern Iran) about 150 years ago.
Who Are The Members of the Baha'i Faith?
Members of the Baha'i Faith are called Baha'is. There are about six million Baha'is from about two thousand ethnic groups in about two hundred countries of the world. About one hundred forty thousand Baha'is reside in seven thousand different locations throughout the United States. The highest concentrations of Baha'is in the United States are in South Carolina, California, Texas, Georgia and Illinois. The Baha'i Faith is the second most widely distributed religion in the world behind Christianity. There are Baha'i assemblies in more countries than assemblies of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. The Baha'i Faith also enjoys a faster rate of growth than any of the five world religions list above. While most Christians do not know much about the Baha'i Faith and do not know many Baha'is, there are Baha'is in virtually every region of the United States. There are Baha'is in many locations where there are Southern Baptists and these Baha'is need to meet the one and only Great Manifestation of God in the flesh--Jesus Christ.
While no generalization is entirely accurate, as a rule, Baha'is in the United States are often professional people who have thought carefully about their religion and tend to be heavily involved in social and political causes like civil rights, world peace and poverty issues. Baha'is are often people who are inclined to use their minds, support causes and articulating their beliefs. Because the Baha'i Faith is a relatively new religion, Baha'is usually join this religion deliberately. It is rarely the case that Baha'is in the United States join the Baha'i Faith only on the basis of their association with the Baha'i culture in the absence of an attraction to the teachings of Baha'u'llah. Most Baha'is become Baha'is because they are attracted to the teachings of the Baha'i Faith and reject the exclusive claims of Christianity, or Islam, or some other major world religion.
What Do Members of the Baha'i Faith Believe?
The most fundamental belief of the Baha'i Faith is that Mirza Husayn Ali or Baha'u'llah was the latest Great Manifestation of God and ultimate prophet. Baha'is believe that Baha'u'llah was divine in his person as well as his message. They believe that the teachings of Baha'u'llah as interpreted by his son, Abdu'l Baha, and translated by his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, represent the most accurate teachings of God for this age. In a nutshell, Baha'is believe that Baha'u'llah was a divine manifestation of God and they follow his teachings. So, who is Baha'u'llah and what did he teach?
According to an authoritative Baha'i source, Baha'u'llah is,
"The Manifestation of God to the age of fulfillment, He is the one promised in all the scriptures of the past, the "Desire of nations," the "King of Glory." To Judaism He is "Lord of Hosts"; to Christianity, the Return of Christ in the glory of the Father; the Islam, the "Great Announcement"; to Buddhism, the Maitreya Buddha; to Hinduism, the new incarnation of Krishna; to Zoroastrianism, the advent of "Shah-Bahram.""
The principles of the Baha'i Faith are derived from the extensive writings of Baha'u'llah and the interpretations of his son and grandson. Three major writings of Baha'u'llah include The Most Holy Book, The Book of Certitudes and The Hidden Words. There are two key teachings of the Baha'i Faith. They are the oneness of God and the progressive manifestations of God.
Baha'u'llah taught that there is one God who is the eternal Creator. The Greatest Name of the one God is Baha, which means Glory, Splendor, or Light. Baha is essentially unknowable, but Baha manifests himself from time to time through divine prophets called Great Manifestations. Baha'u'llah taught that the Great Manifestations in human history include Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Ali Muhammad (also known as the Bab) and Baha'u'llah himself. Baha'u'llah taught that each of these Great Manifestations, of which he was the latest, provided the divine manifestation for his own time and culture. The message of each Great Manifestation superseded all earlier ones. And the message of Baha'u'llah himself superseded all the preceding Great Manifestations. Baha'u'llah also taught that his divine teachings were the end of a prophetic cycle and constituted eternal truth, but he also acknowledged the eventual necessity of a future Great Manifestation to maintain the complete body of the true teachings he set forth.
There are several other principles of the Baha'i Faith that serve as something of a blueprint for a utopian theocracy under the guardianship of the Baha'i Faith. These principles include:
The oneness of mankind-This is one of three core principles of Baha'i together with the oneness of God and the oneness of religion.
The common foundations of all religions-All genuine religions are based upon the teachings of a Great Manifestation of God. Each Great Manifestation taught his perspective on the divine reality. The pure truth of their teachings became corrupted by ritual and superstition. Every other religion should set aside its non-essential teachings (corruptions) and unite with the Baha'i Faith and other religions on the basis of the common essential teachings of all religions. The standard for the pure truth to which all religions should conform is, of course, the teachings of Baha'u'llah.
The independent investigation of truth-Everyone should have equal access to the truth and no one should be compelled by any authority to embrace some particular belief.
The essential harmony of science and religion-The proper use of reason supports religion and is not the enemy of religion.
The equality of men and women-The full equality of the two genders is an essential component for worldwide progress.
The elimination of prejudice of all kinds-There is no room or reason for racial, political or religious prejudice in light of the unity of humanity and the equality of the sexes.
Universal compulsory education-Since the greatest threat to worldwide unity and peace is ignorance, every child must be educated in order to produce worldwide unity and peace.
Spiritual solutions to economic problems-The extremes of poverty and wealth can be eliminated if the wealthy give to the poor as a spiritual act of worship.
A universal auxiliary language-The world must adopt a universal language in order for the entire human race to actually function as a unified people. All people should learn to speak this universal auxiliary language in addition to their native tongue.
Universal peace upheld by a world federation-a central worldwide authority must maintain World peace, human unity, and universal justice.
How Do Baha'is Practice the Baha'i Faith?
The Baha'i code of conduct promotes honesty, trustworthiness, compassion and justice. It affirms monogamous and chaste marriages and it prohibits homosexual behavior. It also forbids abortion on demand as a measure of birth control. It also forbids the consumption of alcoholic beverages and narcotics. Baha'is are required to observe daily prayers, holy days and an annual nineteen-day fast during daylight hours. They are required to obey the laws of the state and they are encouraged to vote in general elections, but they are prohibited from engaging in partisan politics. There is no Baha'i clergy or priesthood and leaders are selected in a democratic process. There are seven large Baha'i Temples called Houses of Worship located in various parts of the world and one Universal House of Justice located in Haifa, Israel that serves as the seat of the Baha'i Federation. One of the Baha'i Houses of Worship is located in an affluent northern suburb of Chicago, Illinois. Temple attendance is not an important part of Baha'i life, however. Baha'i assemblages typically gather for a "Feast" meeting every nineteen days for about two hours in a member's home or community center. The first hour of the Feast meeting consists of worship in the form of hymn singing and the second hour is devoted to administrative issues and planning for ministry and social activism.
Evangelistic Strategy for Baha'is: Point of Contact
One general strategy for interfaith evangelism is to affirm the principles of a non-Christian religion that correspond to Christian truths. There are many Baha'i beliefs and practices that correspond directly or indirectly to Christianity. It might be a helpful point of contact to acknowledge those similarities, but be careful not to make too much of them. For instance, it might be helpful to commend your Baha'i friends for their devotion to one God, though differently conceived. You might also commend them for their code of conduct, commitment to moral character, their emphasis on chaste monogamous marriages and their prohibition of homosexual behavior and consumption of alcohol and narcotics. There are several Baha'i principles that can also be affirmed by genuine Christianity. You may commend your Baha'i friends for promoting the fundamental equality of all humanity. You may commend them for their commitment to religious liberty and the universal freedom to investigate religious truth claims without coercion. You may commend your Baha'i friends for their belief that reason is not necessarily an enemy of religion, and certainly not an enemy of Christianity. You may also commend them for believing that a spiritual solution may solve the problem of poverty. Your Baha'i friends may also be commended for their commitment to universal education.
Evangelistic Strategy: Two Key Challenges
Attempts to evangelize persons who already embrace a non-Christian religion are usually more effective when the evangelist has a strategy to create a crisis of belief in the heart of the non-Christian. Baha'is will probably not embrace genuine Christianity until they first become uncertain about the truthfulness or effectiveness of the Baha'i Faith. Perhaps the most vulnerable claims of the Baha'i Faith are two of its core beliefs: the identity of Baha'u'llah as a Great Manifestation of God, and the unity of all religions. These two core beliefs are particularly vulnerable in light of the Baha'i commitment to the principle of reason.
Is Baha'u'llah an authentic Great Manifestation of God?
Reason dictates that a hypothesis is only a claim for truth until there is some evidence to substantiate it. The proposition that Baha'u'llah is the messenger of true religion for this age is only a claim for truth, or a hypothesis. It is not actually a true statement until there is a body of evidence to substantiate it. If Baha'u'llah was indeed the messenger of true religion for this age then Christianity and all other religions of this age should be set aside and everyone in this age should follow the teachings of Baha'u'llah. If, however, Baha'u'llah was only a man like many other men with sincerely held religious beliefs that he sought to propagate, then the entire Baha'i program may be faulty because it is built upon a faulty premise-the divine, infallible nature of Baha'u'llah and his message.
Ask your Baha'i friends if they agree with the claim that the Baha'i Faith, as a system, is only as genuine as Baha'u'llah himself. They will almost certainly agree. Then ask them to present you with the evidence that Baha'u'llah and his message were infallible and divine. You can expect many Baha'is to offer little or no strong evidences to substantiate this belief. Help your Baha'i friends see that they believe a mere hypothesis. They believe a hypothesis that has serious consequences if untrue, a hypothesis with little or no supporting evidence. Then ask your friends if this is not highly disconcerting, especially in light of the two Baha'i principles of the essential harmony of reason and religion, and the individual right of the free and independent investigation of truth.
You may also ask your Baha'i friends if they have a reasonable explanation for the very short term of the Bab (about 20 years) as a Great Manifestation of God. Ask them how they account for Baha'u'llah's identity as a Great Manifestation of God in light of the fact that the Bab preceded him by only a few years. The Bab's very short term as a Great Manifestation of God in the same geographical region with Baha'u'llah presents a very serious challenge to the claim that Baha'u'llah and the Bab were both authentic Great Manifestations of God. In other words, it does not seem very likely that the Bab's teachings could have been so corrupted in twenty years that the presence of another Great Manifestation (Baha'u'llah) would be required so soon.
If your Baha'i friends seem to be open-minded, honestly challenged, or teachable on this point, you may present the core truth claims of Christianity and offer some of the evidences that support those claims. You may want to consult one or more of the following books on Christian apologetics to help you make this defense: Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig, Christian Apologetics by Norman L. Geisler, and Scaling the Secular City by J. P. Moreland.
Is the Baha'i claim for the unity of all major religions a valid piece of evidence for proving that the Baha'i Faith is genuine?
Many Baha'is have embraced the Baha'i system in large part because of the claim that the Baha'i Faith is a religion composed of the teachings that are common to all the major world religions. This is a compelling reason, indeed, if true. The Baha'i Faith sees itself as a kind of collection of common teachings from all the major world religions. More importantly, many Baha'is see this alleged unity as strong evidence for the authenticity of the Baha'i Faith. If this evidence can be effectively challenged, then perhaps some Baha'is will rethink their commitment to the Baha'i Faith. Perhaps some of them will chose the genuine Jesus and embrace the biblical faith, the faith that was once, for all, delivered to the saints.
Ask your Baha'i friends if they believe in the unity of all major religions. Expect a simple affirmative answer, or a complex answer that includes the hypothesis that all the present teachings of the major world religions are not authentic. Follow-up by asking them to provide supporting evidence for their claim that the present teachings of the world religions are not the authentic teachings of their founders. More importantly, ask them to provide supporting evidence for their claim that the present teachings of evangelical Christianity are not the authentic teachings of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Do not expect a valid answer to this request. Most Baha'is hold this position wholly on the basis that Baha'u'llah taught it, not on the basis of any independent evidence to support it because the latter does not exist.
Try to demonstrate to your Baha'i friends that there is compelling evidence to support the proposition that the present teachings of the major world religions are authentic teachings of their founders. That does not mean that all their teachings are true. It just means that they are authentic, as far as anyone knows. Try to help them see the brute fact that there is absolutely no evidence to support their hypothesis. In other words, claims that Moses, or the Buddha, or Muhammad taught something other than what appears in the present record is simply not supported by one single piece of evidence. If you successfully convince your Baha'i friend that there is no valid reason for claiming that the present state of the teachings of the world religions are different from the original teachings, then you may want to return to your question about the uniformity of the major world religions.
Ask your friend again if they are aware of the mutually excluding differences between world religions. Try to help your friend see that there are many evidences that show that several fundamental teachings of the major religions are mutually exclusive. For instance, Vedantic Hinduism is polytheistic (many non-creating gods); Bhakti Hinduism is henotheistic (devotion to one non-creating incarnation of god among many gods), and Buddhism is atheistic (no god, no creator, no creation). Zoroastrianism and Islam are monotheistic (one creator God who is so transcendent that he cannot become in-fleshed) and Christianity is a Trinitarian-monotheistic religion (one God who is three eternal persons and one essential being, one of these persons becoming in-fleshed). All of these various teachings on the number and nature of God exclude all others. This is only one of the different teachings among the major religions about arguably the most fundamental religious topic-the number and nature of God.
Additionally, in Buddhism, the Ultimate Reality or "God" is described as "no-thing" (non-existent or non-being). In Hinduism, Ultimate Reality or "God" is "one-thing" or "some-thing" (Brahman). It is very reasonable to suggest that Ultimate Reality or "God" is either "some-thing" or "no-thing." Whatever Ultimate Reality or "God" may be, it cannot both exist and not exist. You may want to consult Neighboring Faiths by Winfried Corduan to help you identify several other important differences between the major world religions that are mutually exclusive.
Also See Religious Pluralism (Do All Paths Lead To The Same Destination?)
If your friend will not concede that the present teachings of the major world religions are the same as the original teachings, then you may still be able to produce a crisis of belief in the heart of your Baha'i friend. Whenever the observation is made by a challenger that some feature of the Baha'i Faith is in direct conflict with the teachings of some major world religion, Baha'is will usually answer that the teaching in question was a corrupted teaching and not an authentic one. Baha'is believe that the authentic teachings of all the world religions were basically the same as the present teachings of Baha'u'llah. Many Baha'is will not be diverted from this claim, no matter how much evidence you produce to the contrary. In this case try to help your friend see that the necessary consequence of this Baha'i belief is that the Baha'i Faith is the only fully genuine religion in its present form that is composed of truth alone with no error. This is a necessary conclusion that will be difficult for some Baha'is to admit. The realization of this necessary conclusion, however, may produce a crisis of belief and a teachable moment. You can expect this realization of effective Baha'i exclusivity to result in a retreat to a claim for the truthfulness of the Baha'i Faith on the basis of mere belief in the authenticity of Baha'u'llah rather than the evidence for the unity of religious truths. This last refuge of belief can be effectively challenged as well with the strategy suggested above.
Evangelistic Strategy: Two Weaknesses
One weakness of the Baha'i Faith is its inability to produce an experience of relationship between the individual and a personal God. The God of the Baha'i Faith is strictly an unknowable, unreachable, wholly unfamiliar God who does not relate directly, or personally, to individuals. This concept of God is also found in Islam and the Babi religion, which is the parent religion of Baha'i. If Baha'is fully conform to Baha'i teachings on the nature of God, they can know nothing of the kind of intimacy and personal relationship that can be experienced with the God of Christianity. If they do claim to have a personal relationship with God, it may be because they have unwittingly ignored the teachings of Baha'u'llah on this point and imported a concept of God from Judaism or Christianity. Ask your Baha'i friends if they conceive of God and attempt to relate to God as if he were personal and knowable. Some will agree that they do. Then ask why they remain in a religious system that fundamentally rejects this concept of God. Suggest to them that genuine Christianity alone offers this kind of personal intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Then, explain the nature of your own personal intimate relationship with God.
Another weakness of the Baha'i Faith is its inability to offer any assurances or security about life after death. Like Muslims, Baha'is cannot be certain that they will be delivered from judgment and enter the Paradise of God. One's entrance into the Paradise of God is based purely on the merit of the individual. If one submits to the teachings of Baha'u'llah to an acceptable, though undisclosed, degree, one may enter Paradise. In contrast, Christians may be certain that they will be in the presence of God after their death and forever. This certainty is very comforting. Ask your Baha'i friends if they would like to know with certainty that they will experience the presence of God and immeasurable blessings in eternity after death. Be prepared to hear a rebuttal to the Christian concept of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, but stay on point and emphasize that Christianity offers security and peace of mind about one's station after death where the Baha'i Faith cannot.
TIPS FOR BREAKING THE BAHA'I CODE
1. Capitalize on Baha'i Eagerness & Curiosity: Most Baha'is are very curious about religious matters. They are eager to discuss their religion and religion in general. They consider themselves a people who are not threatened by other religions.
2. Be Careful Not to Cross the Line: Most Baha'is will disengage if the discussion becomes too aggressive or generates too much passion. Baha'is are forbidden to be aggressive in their religious discussions and will see any aggressive behavior on your part as undesirable.
3. Be Prepared: The Baha'i Faith encourages the study of other religions. Most Baha'is know more about other religions than most evangelicals know about them. Be well prepared if you intend to challenge the Baha'i Faith's claim that it is the authentic culmination of all authentic world religions.
4. Don't be a Cliché: Most Baha'is expect Evangelizing-Christians to be narrow-minded bigots with little interest in issues of poverty, racial equality, and justice. So, listen a lot, acknowledge their strongest arguments and show as much compassion for people as passion for truth.
5. Take Your Time: If U.S. Baha'is convert to the Biblical Faith it will almost certainly involve a lengthy process of debate and deliberation. Be patient and be prepared to make your appeal over a lengthy period of time.
BAHA'I PRONUNCIATION GUIDE
Abdu'l Baha (ob-dool bah-hah, accented on the final syllables)
Babi (bob-ee, accented on the final syllable)
Baha (bah-hah, accented on the final syllable)
Baha'i (bah-high, accented on the final syllable)
Baha'is (bah-highs, accented on the final syllable)
Baha'u'llah (bah-ha-oo-lah, accented on the second and final syllables)
Mirza Husayn Ali (meer-za hoo-sane ah-lee, accented on the final syllables)