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Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, brought a new revelation from God to humanity. How can we evaluate this startling claim? What makes this revelation so unique?
Baha’u’llah wrote that his revelation marks the beginning of a new era, the day foretold in all the scriptures of the past, the day when the Promised One of all religions would appear, characterized in the Bible as the time when there will be one fold and one shepherd.
A “fold,” in the old sense of the word, means a staked- or fenced-off area of pasture, a protected place where the flock could safely and unitedly exist.
… Baha’u’llah proclaimed that, inasmuch as God is the one heavenly Shepherd and all mankind are the sheep of His fold, the religion or guidance of God must be the means of love and fellowship in the world. If religion proves to be the source of hatred, enmity and contention, if it becomes the cause of warfare and strife and influences men to kill each other, its absence is preferable. For that which is productive of hatred amongst the people is rejected by God, and that which establishes fellowship is beloved and sanctioned by Him.
We need a single religious fold in order to free humanity from the tyranny brought on by false, antiquated interpretations of religion.
Religions, the Baha’i teachings say, require renewal. While their spiritual teachings are everlasting, over time their social teachings lose relevance and become outdated, their interpretations of theology grow deficient, and many of their follower’s actions fail to accord with God’s teachings either for this day or during their checkered history.
Today, the Baha’i teachings tell us, it is time to move on!
We can view the history of religion, then, as a progressive educational process. Does your grade school education suffice when you go to college? Of course not.
The Baha’i teachings say there is only one God and, therefore, one ongoing educational process. That process proceeds throughout history, with each new spiritual revelation following the former one, renewing religion regularly. Baha’is call this process “progressive revelation,” because it educates humanity sequentially over time. If we use the growth of a child into an adult as an analogy, Baha’u’llah’s purpose is to bring us the mature version of the worship of God.
During human history, the child to teenage versions began with Adam and ended with Muhammad – the prophets and messengers who created what historians call “the Adamic Cycle.” Baha’u’llah has inaugurated a new religious cycle, meant to unify the planet and usher in humanity’s golden age of maturity, as Abdu’l-Baha explained in a talk he gave in London:
This is a new cycle of human power. All the horizons of the world are luminous, and the world will become indeed as a garden and a paradise. It is the hour of unity of the sons of men and of the drawing together of all races and all classes. You are loosed from ancient superstitions which have kept men ignorant, destroying the foundation of true humanity.
The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion.
In that sense, all the religions of the Adamic cycle have completed their role and purpose. The natural process of growth, of maturity means that humanity has moved on. The religions of the past have fulfilled their purpose, and the faith of today asks us to transcend our old religious divisions and unite.