In graduate school, I took courses in Greek, so that I could read the New Testament. I also took courses in Latin, so that I could read some of the church fathers. I didn’t study those languages for seminary or the ministry. I was a Baha’i, and Baha’is have no clergy. Raised as a Christian, I just wanted to deepen my understanding of Christ.
Becoming a Baha’i not only fulfilled my Christian commitments and aspirations (as a child, I waited expectantly for Jesus to return), it also gave me the opportunity to appreciate Christ more fully and deeply than I ever had before. What really changed my “Christian” life was Baha’u’llah’s eulogy of Christ:
Know thou that when the Son of Man yielded up His breath to God, the whole creation wept with a great weeping. By sacrificing Himself, however, a fresh capacity was infused into all created things. … The deepest wisdom which the sages have uttered, the profoundest learning which any mind hath unfolded, the arts which the ablest hands have produced, the influence exerted by the most potent of rulers, are but manifestations of the quickening power released by His transcendent, His all-pervasive, and resplendent Spirit. We testify that when He came into the world, He shed the splendor of His glory upon all created things. Through Him the leper recovered from the leprosy of perversity and ignorance. Through Him, the unchaste and wayward were healed. Through His power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the soul of the sinner sanctified. … He it is Who purified the world. Blessed is the man who, with a face beaming with light, hath turned towards Him. — Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, pp. 85–86.
On this passage, I wrote the following in my PhD dissertation, Paradise and Paradigm: Key Symbols in Persian Christianity and the Baha’i Faith (published in 1999 by the State University of New York Press), pp. 230–231:
Given its Islamic milieu, this passage is remarkable for its superlative glorification of Christ. In orthodox Christianity, the “Work of Christ” is bound up with man’s relationship to God, and this aspect of “functional Christology” is by no means passed over by Baha’u’llah. Abandoning the speculative, ontological “substance Christology” of the classical period, Baha’u’llah describes the “quickening power” unleashed by Christ’s sacrifice and its impact on civilization, bears witness that “the soul of the sinner” has been “sanctified” and acknowledges that the world has been purified by Christ, the Purifier of the world. Three aspects of salvation effected by Christ are singled out in Baha’u’llah’s Tablet to the priest of Constantinople: quickening, sanctifying, purifying. … Baha’u’llah sees Christ’s sacrifice as having an impact not only on the human soul but on the whole panorama of human events. Not only has the individual sinner been saved, but civilization has been quickened as well. To salvation therefore is added a dimension of the work of Christ which Baha’u’llah identifies as “quickening power”— often rendered in the Baha’i writings as “divine assistance.” Baha’u’llah seems to be saying that the pervasive power of Christ’s influence lent a cultural vigor to the West, contributing to its masterpieces of art, its discoveries of science, its human values and even its temporal power, resulting in the ascendancy of the “Great Powers” of nineteenth-century Europe. Thus it is clear that, in Baha’i doctrine, the work of Christ is extended to civilization itself, spiritually contributing to its social evolution.
This new “theory of civilization” identifies Christ with the genesis and fruition of Western civilization, and forms a special characteristic of Baha’u’llah’s view of Christ. This new Baha’i teaching about Christ as the “Quickener” of civilization — certainly one that I never encountered during my Christian childhood – says that the progress of civilization has everything to do with the integrity of the individuals who comprise it.
Baha’u’llah, Baha’is believe, was foretold by Christ:
“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels” (Matthew 16:27).
In Arabic, Baha’u’llah’s name means the “Glory of God.”
Both Christ and Baha’u’llah brought the same message, Baha’is further believe. Abdu’l-Baha explains:
For a single purpose were the Prophets, each and all, sent down to earth; for this was Christ made manifest, for this did Baha’u’llah raise up the call of the Lord: that the world of man should become the world of God … and unity, fellowship and love … and grace everlasting become the harvest of mankind. — Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 31.
Just as Christ had a profound impact on Western civilization, Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah, through the power of his moral and social principles, will ultimately usher in a world civilization. I never really understood Christ’s true purpose and mission until I discovered the Baha’i teachings.
©2013 by Christopher Buck.