Baha'i Faith and Christianity
by Seena Fazel and Marcus Braybrookepublished in Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity, pages 90-92
Cambridge University Press, 2010
1. TextBahá'í Faith and Christianity: Bahá'í Perspectives
The approximately 5 million adherents (in 2000) of the Bahá'í Faith affirm, together with their primary texts, a number of core Christian beliefs, including the divinity and sonship of Jesus Christ, the divine inspiration of the Bible, and the significance of the Crucifixion and subsequent impact on human progress. Bahá'ís hold to a nonliteral interpretation of the resurrection* and future apocalyptic events predicted in the Gospels and Revelation. Although the bodily incarnation* of God's essence in Jesus Christ is not part of Bahá'í teaching, Jesus is viewed as the incarnation of God's virtues and attributes and as a sinless being whose soul was pre-existent. Bahá'í theology describes Jesus as the "manifestation of God" (cf. "image," Col 1:15; Heb 1:3). Although they do not affirm the inerrancy* of the Bible, Bahá'ís reject the view of mainstream Islam* that the NT has been corrupted.
Bahá'í literature on Christianity is predominantly apologetic, arguing that the founder of the Bahá'í faith, Mirza Husayn Ali Bahá'u'lláh, fulfilled NT prophecies on the "Second* Coming." Recent scholarly analyses of Bahá'í texts on the Bible and comparative theological studies have argued that, rather than denying the uniqueness* of Jesus Christ, Bahá'í texts question the exclusivity of Christianity. Christian literature on the Bahá'í religion has been mostly polemical - much of it written by former Protestant missionaries in Iran* who seemingly resented the relative success of Bahá'ís in converting Muslims, and more recently by individuals with no knowledge of the primary languages of Bahá'í texts who tried to dismiss the religion as a cult or sect. In academic works related to interreligious dialogue, Christian theologians have placed the Bahá'í Faith within a theology of religious pluralism.
Bahá'ís and Christians share a belief in the importance of an ethical system based on personal responsibility, justice*, honesty, and compassion; of social justice*, respect for nature, interfaith dialogue, and gender and racial equality. - - - - SEENA FAZEL
Many Christians remain ignorant of the Bahá'í Faith, introduced to the Western world at the World Parliament of Religions (Chicago, 1893) by a Christian missionary working in Syria. He enthusiastically quoted the prediction of Bahá'u'lláh (Baha 'Allah; 1817-92), the founder of the Bahá'í religion (in Iran*), "that all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers and that diversity of religion should cease."
Some liberal Christians greeted his son and successor, Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921), with similar enthusiasm in London (1911). The minister of the City Temple (the historic Nonconformist Congregation where Abdu'l-Bahá preached) declared, "The Bahá'í movement is almost identical with the spiritual purpose of Christianity." At St. John's Church, Westminster, the archdeacon knelt with his congregation to receive Abdu'l-Bahá's blessing. Pioneers of the interfaith movement welcomed the Bahá'í emphasis on the unity of religions, but other Christians suspected the Bahá'í Faith of "syncretism*."
Many Christians, especially Evangelicals*, have criticized Bahá'ís for denying the uniqueness* of Jesus and question Bahá'u'lláh's symbolic interpretation of the Bible in his Tablet to the Christians (Lawh-I-Aqdas). Bahá'u'lláh taught that God, though unknowable, is revealed through manifestations, including Jesus, along with Moses, Muhammad, and others. The essential message of these manifestations is the same, although each messenger has a distinct individuality and mission. Revelation is progressive. Bahá'u'lláh claimed to be the promised one of all religions and compared his own suffering in prison to Jesus' atoning* death. These claims are incompatible with traditional Christian belief.
Bahá'u'lláh's teachings anticipated many 20th-c. creative developments: the peace* movement, interfaith fellowship, equal rights for women, the International Court of Justice, and the United Nations. Christian advocates of these causes have often been happy to work with Bahá'ís. - - - - Marcus Braybrooke