POWER TO RENEW
THE WORLD: A CHALLENGE TO CHRISTIANS
THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
Ultimately Christianity's greatest challenge is not communism; it is not secularism; it is not Islam; it is Baha'u'llah. Just because many Christian try to ignore the challenge of Baha'u'llah does not make that challenge any less real.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his prison cell that the day would come "when men will be called once again to utter the Word of God with such power as will change and renew the world. It will be a new language, which will horrify men, and yet overwhelm them by its power." (Time Magazine December 26, 1964)
For example, to Pope Pius IX, Baha'u'llah addressed these words: "O Pope! Rend the veils asunder. He who is the Lord of Lords is come... Beware that thou dispute not with him, even as the Pharisees disputed with Him (Jesus) without a clear token or proof. Beware lest any name debar thee from God..."
In his "Reconciliation of Races and Religions", Dr. T.K. Cheyne, the well-known Oxford scholar of international repute, wrote of Baha'u'llah in these words: "There was living quite lately a human being of such consummate excellence that many think it both permissible and inevitable even to identify him mystically with the invisible Godhead."
Arnold Toynbee reminds
us in "A Study of History" that the little Christian groups
of the second century loomed no larger in the eyes of the
educated Greek than the Baha'i Faith does today in the eyes
of many Western intellectuals. The two letters that follow show
how a few Christians responded to the challenge of Baha'u'llah.
Since accepting the Grant-in-Aid to Yale, I have become firmly convinced of the unanswerable truth of the Baha'i World Faith. During my four years as a student at Vanderbilt, I have been privileged to know and talk with some of the greatest leaders of Christianity in the United States and, to some extent, in the world. I have been in proximity, for the entire four year period, to Nels Ferre who, as you know, is one of the most creative theologians in Christianity today. The summer between my freshman and sophomore years I was fortunate enough to attend the full seventeen-day meeting to the Wold Council of Churches in Evanston, Illinois. There I was able to talk personally with some of the most dynamic spirits and the most creative thinkers the Christian world offers.
Nor has my activity been solely intellectual. Last summer I served as part of "A Christian Ministry in the National Parks" at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. I have done work in campus religious organizations and in the Church. In all of my activity, I have found nothing which is in any way comparable to the Baha'i Revelation either in the dynamic qualities of the Spirit or in the satisfaction of the intellect. When one finds such deep and lasting satisfaction in an age so fraught with error and anxiety, he can do nothing else but follow it. Indeed, he would be a fool to do otherwise! I pray that I may be able to say, as other Baha'is have said, "and if something else comes along which is more satisfying than this, then I will follow it." This is indeed the spirit of truth.
The people of this age are asleep. They have been unable to discern the signs of the time. The greatest minds and the most sensitive spirits are those who testify the strongest of despair, for it is they who most keenly realize how close we are to the very brink of disaster. The only thing capable of saving man is God, God as He reveals Himself and His will for this age. God has indeed done this through Baha'u'llah (The Glory of God). Baha'u'llah proclaimed Himself in 1863 to be the Promised One so long awaited by men of all faiths and foretold in unmistakable terms by Jesus in the 24th chapter of Matthew. It is this very issue, the Second Coming of Christ, which has long been ignored by the whole of liberal Protestant Christendom and which was the cause of disunity and disagreement at the Evanston meeting.
I met Baha'is for the first time as a freshman in college. During these four years of search I, like almost every other Christian, refused to consider seriously the claims of Baha'u'llah as the Promised One. The truly frightening thing is that Christian leaders simply refuse even to consider the claims of Baha'i. They are willing to study for years the detailed aspects of the Bible, historical and contemporary theological literature, and the history of the Christian church; yet they refuse to consider even the possibility that the claims of Baha'u'llah might be true.
You most probably encountered an article in the April 10th issue of "THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY" by Marcus Bach entitled, "Baha'i: A Second Look." "Christ and Baha'u'llah" and "The Promise of All Ages," both by Canon George Townshend, are excellent works on the subject.
The world is on the brink of disaster greater than it has ever known. Christians must wake up before it is too late. Each day which passes without this awakening will surely sink the Christian world deeper in despair and confusion. The words of Paul echo through the centuries to this, the time of the Kingdom promised in Christ's own prayer; "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?"
It is possible that in sharing my experience and my reason for deciding not to enter Yale some glint of interest in Baha'i will arise. It is with this very hope that I write.
The following is a prayer revealed by Baha'u'llah:
O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and
reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy
commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God in their
endeavour, and grant them strength to serve Thee. O God, leave
them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of
knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou
art their Helper and their Lord.
You have heard that I have accepted the Baha'i World Faith and you naturally want to know what has prompted me to take such a step. You are wondering, "What is it all about?"... "What is his purpose?"... "Is he no longer a Christian?"... Finally you ask, "Can he really be sincere" Has he actually been called out? If so, what is the nature of that call?" What is it all about?
It is first of all about God, about His love, about His lordship over history, about His continual guidance and merciful care. Before all, this story is about God, about Him Who to this very hour and beyond will not let man go. This drama portrays the Father Who toileth now as then, Who again has acted to judge, to cleanse, to unite within the tabernacle of His Love the people whom He created.
In 1844, a young Persian know to us as the Bab, which means "The Gate," announced that He had been sent to herald the coming of "Him whom God should manifest." He gathered about Him disciples, filled them with the Spirit of God, and sent them out saying, "Scatter throughout the length and breadth of this land, and, with steadfast feet and sanctified hearts, prepare the way for His coming."
In a short time, these followers of the Bab had changed the face of their land. Thousands responded to their call and a great spiritual awakening engulfed Persia. As the number and influence of the Babis grew, the ecclesiastical and civil authorities decided upon strict, if unlawful, measures. The Bab was arrested, but His following grew. Finally, in desperation, the Bab was brought from His prison to Tabriz, where He was publicly shot to death. And yet the Babis grew! Later, two irresponsible youths attempted to take the Shah's life. This gave the priests the excuse they had been looking for. A fierce persecution was then inaugurated, 20,000 Bab'i martyrs were burned, sawn into, and cruelly butchered.
One of the Bab's followers was a radiant youth, called Baha'u'llah, which means "The Glory of God." He served the Bab loyally, giving up great wealth and high position to champion His cause. After the death of the Bab, Baha'u'llah assumed the leadership of the remaining Babis. He was taken, after the attempt on the Shah's life, to a prison in Tihran.
While in that foul dungeon, God chose Him as His Prophet, as Him through whom the entire world would be united, as the "collective center for the constructive forces" of this day, as the inaugurator and quickening power of the New World Order.
In 1863, in a quiet garden just outside Baghdad, surrounded by a small band of relatives and followers, Baha'u'llah made His announcement. He was, He told them, that one "whom God should manifest." Well does Canon Townshend speak of Him as "The Promise of All Ages," for in the person of Baha'u'llah God's mercy and love met fully with man's longing and need. Here was He of Whom Christ spoke. Here was He so fervently expected by Christians, Jews, Moslems, and the hosts of other religions. This was the day of the promise kept, the day of fulfilment. Here was God making Himself manifest in this new day, and Baha'u'llah was this Manifestation.
There followed for the Well-Beloved One a life of persecution, imprisonment, and banishment. Nonetheless, His Spirit infused a new day of Justice. His Love and Mercy were the inspiration for a unified world. His life was the rock of strength upon which were laid the foundation stones of the Kingdom of God.
Of His life and influence, we can only predict with 'Abdu'l-Baha, His son, that "Ere the close of this century and of this age it shall be made clear and evident how wondrous was that spring- tide, and how heavenly was that gift."
What is his purpose?
My Christian brothers, it will be said by some that I am taking a merely negative step, that in stepping forward into the Revelation of Baha'u'llah, I am doing so simply because I can no longer find a place in orthodox Christianity. Rest assured that this is not my primary motive. I feel that I have a call into a new relationship with God and into a world community.
However, I wish to make it fully clear that I was not at home in the Christian institution. I had chosen the ideals of Christ, which were to me the highest ideals of self-giving, other- concerned love. Traditional, institutional, westernized Christianity did not, for me, sufficiently represent those ideals.
To be more specific, I wanted to be able to reach out in love to my Buddhist friends to say truly, "My brother," I longed to see the day when men of like intent and purpose from all religions could will one will, and form a deeper kindred in their common dedication to one God. In this intent I was hindered time and again by a corrupt theology which made history unexciting.
God, I recognized, had acted all over this world, and lighted lights in every age, had sent His Prophets to every people. I could not believe that He had acted finally in any age, and yet this was the claim. In Jesus, I was told, He had acted in a unique and final way. That all that had gone before was preparation, I could believe. That all after His ministry was but an anticlimactic aftermath, I rejected. It seemed more natural that God would continue to work out His purpose in history, ever giving men new and more challenging truth. Much contemporary theology seemed to indicate, on close scrutiny, that God had ceased to operate, except by remote control. And, riddle of riddles, they called upon that God to send forth the thunder of His authority and the rain of His purpose to their confused and otherwise helpless day.
Just then, I met with a man sent by God who spoke a message quite different. He told me that God had always sent His prophets to His people, that the religions are, in their basic outlook and objective, one, that their founders, "though different in the nonessential aspects of their teachings, 'abide in the same Tabernacle, soar in the same heaven, are seated upon the same throne, utter the same speech and proclaim the same Faith.'" That, moreover, the men of other religions are fully and truly my brothers, and that all can join with me in following Him who constructively fulfills their objective and purpose.
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith, has written: "His (Baha'u'llah's) Cause... stands identified with, and revolves around, the principle of the organic unity of mankind as representing the consummation of the whole process of human evolution. This final stage in this stupendous evolution, they assert, is not only necessary but inevitable, that it is gradually approaching, and that nothing short of the celestial potency with which a divinely ordained Message can claim to be endowed can succeed in establishing it."
If only I could communicate to you the exhilarating freedom that is mine when, with the Baha'is, I join hands with all men of like intent to will one will. No longer need I defend the claims of Jesus against those of Muhammad or Buddha. No longer do I compromise in any fashion on the subject of brotherhood. I am one with all men. I need be no vague eclectic, nor must I be arrogant about my claims.
My purpose, then, as a Baha'i, is primarily to throw my lot with those who would unify mankind. This objective of unity takes its concrete expression in the following principles: The Baha'i Faith (By Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha'i Faith)
These above principles are but the broadest outlines of the Baha'i social objectives, and represent only the bare minimum of the wealth that is contained in the writings of the Founder, and in those of His son, 'Abdu'l-Baha, the Center of His Covenant with mankind. Let him who is interested in these principles look further into the Baha'i Revelation, for there waits for that person a fortune of inspiration and guidance.
Is he no longer a Christian?
The Baha'is have attempted to see God as an intelligent workman, to use an illustration from the human sphere, Who is building a marvelous tower. He is no workman ill-informed, or incapable of the job. He does not start, then tear down and begin again. He has a plan, which He follows. Each successive stage of the building is important and quite necessary to the completion of the building. There can be no foundation stones without a basis of rock; only upon a well-laid foundation can the girders rise; until the girders rise, no walls, no floors, no siding, no connected structuring is possible.
In like manner, the Prophets of God do not represent the fitful frustration of One Who cannot speak His word clearly, but are one and all parts of a Divine plan, successive stages of a well- planned drama, Messengers to their time and day, the Manifestations of God. As such, these Prophets represent stages of successive revelation which do not conflict; rather, they instruct and prepare mankind for a greater and larger understanding of God and point man to his most essential duty, the building of the Kingdom of God.
It will be confusing to some, but perfectly clear to others, when the Baha'i says that his profession of faith makes him no less a Christian. He feels that he has followed, as best he can, the call of the Spirit. He does not leave Christ behind. Christ as the Spirit of God is always out in front of the best of men. The Baha'i allegiance to Christ is his allegiance to Baha'u'llah. It is interesting to note here a statement by the Guardian of the Faith, "The human temple that has been made the vehicle of so overpowering a Revelation must, if we be faithful to the tenets of our Faith, ever remain entirely distinguished from that 'innermost Spirit of Spirits' and 'eternal Essence of Essences' - - that invisible yet rational God Who, however much we extol the divinity of His Manifestations on earth, can in no wise incarnate His infinite, His unknowable, His incorruptible all-embracing Reality in the concrete and limited frame of a mortal being."
When Jesus announced His mission, He reminded His followers that He did not abrogate the Jewish law, but was its logical and natural fulfillment. He said, "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me." Likewise, Baha'u'llah states that the truest followers of Jesus will recognize Him and in faith and joy will come to His side in this new day.
Thus, for me, for every Baha'i, we have given up nothing! We have renounced only prejudice, division, and, we hope, pride. We follow in sincerity the light of God. The path we tread is the same path followed by the people of other ages and earlier faiths. The difference lies in that we have been called out to be the breakers of the dawn of this New Day, the apostles of God. The Father has placed us out on the cutting edge of the world. We do not understand His wisdom in calling us, for our lamps are weak and we are a people little able to break the news of these great tidings. The words of the Bab, spoken to those eighteen souls sent out to change the world, revive our hearts and encourage our souls, "Heed not your weaknesses and frailty; fix your gaze upon the invincible power of the Lord, your God, the Almighty... Arise in His name, put your trust wholly in Him, and be assured of ultimate victory."
Can he really be sincere?
Has he really been called out? If so, what is the nature of that call? Try as a man will, he cannot again reproduce those mystic moments of truth, when his Lord has captured his soul, when the flame of God's nearness engulfs his heart. Yet, that call rings even now as loud and true as if it were echoing ceaselessly down the hall of my heart. It is that very call which now animates my being, which bears me up, which leads me on, which purifies through greatest fire my inmost soul.
I cannot reproduce for you this central moment of my life. I can, however, suggest to you, my Christian friends, the writings of a dedicated scholar, Canon George Townshend, who spent a lifetime investigating the Baha'i Faith and understanding its relationship to Christianity. His two best books are 'Christ and Baha'u'llah" and "The Promise of All Ages." For the actual words of Baha'u'llah, I suggest "The Glad Tidings of Baha'u'llah" and "The Divine Art of Living."
OTHER COMMENTS ON THE BAHA'I FAITH
"The Baha'i cause is held down by the unwillingness of Americans
to accept seriously the claim that another Messiah has appeared
or that Christ has returned... " "I have met Baha'is in many
parts of the world. They are all cut to the same pattern:
heartfelt dedication to the cause and person of Baha'u'llah,
zeal in the advancement of their ideals. They ask no salaries,
want no honor, and are literally more interested in giving than
in receiving... " - "Baha'i: A Second Look" by Marcus Bach,
Christian Century Magazine.
"... of all the positive religions on the contemporary scene claiming divine authority, the only one unambiguously and almost single-mindedly consecrated to the job of unifying mankind is the Baha'i Faith. Its origins are recent, its believers few, its ambitions breathtaking... " from "The City of Man" by W. Warren Wagar [Houghton Mifflin] Professor of History, Wellesley College
"The Baha'i cause is held down by the unwillingness of Americans to accept seriously the claim that another Messiah has appeared or that Christ has returned... " "I have met Baha'is in many parts of the world. They are all cut to the same pattern: heartfelt dedication to the cause and person of Baha'u'llah, zeal in the advancement of their ideals. They ask no salaries, want no honor, and are literally more interested in giving than in receiving... " - "Baha'i: A Second Look" by Marcus Bach, Christian Century Magazine.