What could unite the world’s religions? Baha’is believe that a new concept called “progressive revelation” can bring every Faith together as one.
Progressive revelation—one of the central teachings of the Baha’i Faith—provides a conceptual framework to define and relate the concepts of God, messengers or prophets of God, and humanity. The concept of progressive revelation also interprets God’s intervention in history and establishes a correlation between the impulse of revelation and the advancement of civilization.
Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah’s eldest son and successor, wrote:
Religion is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore, it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive. If it be without motion and non-progressive it is without the divine life; it is dead. The divine institutes are continuously active and evolutionary; therefore, the revelation of them must be progressive and continuous. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 140.
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, wrote that progressive revelation is:
…the fundamental principle which constitutes the bedrock of Baha’i belief, the principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is orderly, continuous and progressive and not spasmodic or final. – The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 115.
The Baha’i concept of Progressive Revelation begins with a belief in the oneness of God. Although God has been called by different titles–Allah, Yahweh, Brahma, etc.–Baha’is believe that all those names refer to the same Being, who has created the world and given meaning and purpose to the whole creation.
The Baha’i teachings say the unknowable essence of God is an inaccessible reality, and therefore the knowledge of the Creator is identical with the knowledge of His attributes. The knowledge of God, then, may be attained by the knowledge of his attributes, reflected by and seen in every created thing. However, the capacity to reflect the attributes of God is not equally shared by all created things. Higher forms of phenomenal existence reflect more of the Creator’s attributes. Thus, only the highest and most refined forms of creation have the capacity to reflect the complete form of the knowledge of God. For Baha’is, these highest forms of creation are the “manifestations of God,” the divine messengers and prophets who bring humanity our great Faiths. Baha’u’llah describes the station of the manifestations of God in these words:
Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is a direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God, inasmuch as within every atom are enshrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that Most Great Light… To a supreme degree is this true of man… For in him are potentially revealed all the attributes and names of God to a degree that no other created being hath excelled or surpassed… And of all men, the most accomplished, the most distinguished, and the most excellent are the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth. – The Book of Certitude, pp. 100-101.
Baha’is understand the manifestations of God as the intermediaries between God and humanity. They have come according to the necessities of time and place to provide a milieu for the individual and collective development of humanity by revealing a set of spiritual and social principles, called religions. The Baha’i writings identify Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah as messengers of God.
Other prophets and manifestations of God may have existed in bygone ages and previous cycles of human life on earth, the Baha’i teachings also point out. Every culture and civilization, the Baha’i writings say, partakes of God’s guidance.
So progressive revelation means that the Creator’s outpouring of spiritual truth and guidance doesn’t stop with any one particular religion—instead, it continues eternally, evolving and leading humanity onward. That means Baha’is do not view Baha’u’llah as the last and final manifestation of God. More divine messengers will come in the future, as divine revelation is continuous and the potential for human progress is infinite.