03 September 2009

Remembering the Promise. Living the Fulfillment

Below this entry are three posts related to the relation between Christianity and the Baha’i Faith. They are experimental in nature. My feelings would in no way be hurt if you felt they were dogmatic, extreme, or poorly articulated. They are an attempt to remain faithful to the two month period immediately following my recognition of Baha’u’llah as the Return of Christ over the course of one morning in March 2005. Dogmatic, extreme, and inarticulate are fairly accurate descriptions of me at that time. In that sense, I’m picking up where I left off. So you may have to bear with me.

In one sense, this period was a transition from Christianity to the Baha’i Faith. It was a way station in which I felt I belonged to both, but was not quite at home in either. But in another sense it was a fully fledged spirituality that was not just an amalgamation of two religions but rather a radicalized version of both. I was a Christian following Jesus in his returned form. And I was a Baha’i who believed that because Christ was the only way to salvation, the teachings of Baha’u’llah were the only refuge of a travailing age. Those were bizarre days. Often it is difficult to rekindle the exhilaration and ecstasy I felt at the time. This is largely because I often forget my fidelity to Jesus. I forget that I haven’t always been a Baha’i. For that reason, I am now making a concerted effort to remember; not just to dig through the attic of my long-term memory, but to know spontaneously that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. This remembrance is what reminds me of the greatness of this Day. I have taken it upon myself to explore those zones of indistinction between Christianity and the Baha’i Faith, between Jesus and Baha’u’llah upon which I thrived during that brief period. My purpose is in no way academic. I am looking to provide the conceptual tools for facilitating a spirituality that strengthens Baha’i efforts to build a new civilization.

My main interest in going down this route is to explore the possibilities of a spirituality that dwells within these zones of indistinction, that loves the light from whichever lamp it might shine. One aspect of this is to appreciate every soul God has sent to redeem humanity. But beyond that, the unity of God’s revelations allows us to look at the fulfillment of his promises from the perspective of those saints, apostles, and common believers who earnestly waited centuries for their fulfillment. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus tells his disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see and never saw it; to hear what you hear and never heard it.”[1] To look at religion in its continuity, not as something beginning in 1844, can give a perspective that highlights the urgency, majesty, and untold opportunity brought on by the Bab and Baha’u’llah’s coming. It can remind us that the dreams of the Baha’i Faith are not just the dreams of Baha’is, but rather they belong to all who have come before.

Personal experience moving from one religion to the other is helpful but it is not necessary for developing this sort of spirituality. Most of the Christian Bible predates the arrival of the Messiah. Most Christians may most identify with the New Testament. But knowledge of the cycles of restoration and exile, prophecy and heedlessness in the history of ancient Israel provides a powerful backdrop to the Messianic drama of the New Testament. One need not be a Jew to sympathize with the hope of ancient Israel. The Biblical text speaks across lines of ethnicity and dispensation. The accounts of Jesus’ ministry and the letters to the early churches would not have the same power if the reader was unacquainted with the constant hope for redemption voiced throughout the Hebrew Bible, especially in the books of prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Daniel wherein the coming of the Messiah was prophesied. By incorporating the history of previous Dispensations, the Christian Bible presents that of its most recent Dispensation all the more powerfully. (With that said, Christian readings of Jewish scripture are tied up in an ancient legacy of Christian violence against Jews. Appropriating the scriptures of other communities is a task fraught with many ethical difficulties. Nonetheless, I have no intention of surrendering this terrain to anti-semites. Theologically, I never like to cut and run.)

There is nothing stopping Baha’is from gaining inspiration from the scriptures of previous dispensations. The development of this sort of spirituality, of course, doesn’t happen overnight. An awareness of the power of Christian consciousness can guide the way Baha’is accompany Christians into the Baha’i Faith. They may learn all sorts of new things upon entry into the Baha’i world. But, God willing, they will at the same time look back and remember.

As a final thought, Nabil’s Narrative, Fire on the Mountaintop, and Howard Colby’s Ives’ Portals to Freedom are excellent resources for this sort of spirituality.

[1] Lk 10.23-24


  1. Thanks you for this moving introduction to your remembering. I was never a Christian, but I went through a period early in college when I violently doubted the Baha'i Faith because I didn't understand them in light of the scriptures. I was lost in the seeming incongruence. That caused me to undergo an intensive study of the Bible, especially the New Testemant. This helped me return my spontaneous faith in Baha'u'llah. It also gave me a great appreciation of the Bible, and great frustration at, what seems to me to be obvious theological mistakes in mainstream Christian thought.

    This also gave me greater capacity in understanding the Baha'i writings. The writings of Paul have taken on a special significance to me. Much of his inspiration and way of explaining things reminds me powerfully of Abdu'l Baha. It seems like he has become unpopular as of late for introducing supposed theologies such as original sin, etc. But a close study of his writings take on a much deeper meaning than many Christians would allow for.

  2. Greg, this is wonderful, because it resonates with a post I'm writing from a totally different perspective, that of a Baha'i struggling to relate to Christian friends and relatives but having his feelings and Faith in Christ dismissed and devalued. I may not post it anytime soon because it is very rough and disorganized.

  3. One thing about the Baha'i Faith that can be difficult at first for outsiders to understand is how easy it is for Baha's to fall in love and connect with important figures from previous dispensations. It seems to usually be interpreted as either a) their becoming Christian/Jewish/Muslim....b)their insincere or c)their naive and they don't know what they're talking about. But really, the Central Figures of the Baha'i Faith help Baha'is to look at the history of divine revelation from within its many instances. It's easy to be intoxicated by the words and deeds of Jesus if someone has already been carried away by the Bab. It's easy to sympathize with the persecution of Muhammad and the early Muslims if that person is already acquainted with the exiles of Baha'u'llah and his companions. And the flip-side of this is that it all works in the other direction as well.

  4. You wrote: "was a Christian following Jesus in his returned form. And I was a Baha’i who believed that because Christ was the only way to salvation, the teachings of Baha’u’llah were the only refuge of a travailing age. "

    I want to comment about atonement, which the quote is about.

    (le-havdil) The same that is outlined in Tan’’kh about kipur – atonement – was taught by first century Ribi Yehoshua (the Messiah) from Nazareth. Ribi Yehoshua taught in accordance with the teachings in Torah about the only way to get atonement and how to enable a connection with ha-Sheim. Read more here: www.netzarim.co.il

    Anders Branderud

  5. I was raised in the Baha'i Faith, and at around 26 I read the Bible and found that it only confirmed and heightened the truths I already found in the Baha'i writings. I came at it from the opposite perspective as you, but with the same conclusion. I also feel like I received a richer appreciation for the Baha'i Faith after having it framed in the historical context of Christianity. I also gained an appreciation for the depth of Paul's letters, which are clearly reduced to shallow superstitions by the mainstream.