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The Baha’i teachings say that the world’s old order—its systems, governments and philosophies—will soon give way to a new one.
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, explained that the spiritual forces released into the world through the revelation of Baha’u’llah have set into motion two simultaneous processes: the destruction of the old world order and the birth of the new world order. These processes interact upon each other and affect all of humanity:
We are indeed living in an age which, if we would correctly appraise it, should be regarded as one which is witnessing a dual phenomenon. The first signalizes the death pangs of an order, effete and godless, that has stubbornly refused, despite the signs and portents of a century-old Revelation, to attune its processes to the precepts and ideals which that Heaven-sent Faith proffered it. The second proclaims the birth pangs of an Order, divine and redemptive, that will inevitably supplant the former, and within Whose administrative structure an embryonic civilization, incomparable and world-embracing, is imperceptibly maturing. The one is being rolled up, and is crashing in oppression, bloodshed, and ruin. The other opens up vistas of a justice, a unity, a peace, a culture, such as no age has ever seen. The former has spent its force, demonstrated its falsity and barrenness, lost irretrievably its opportunity, and is hurrying to its doom. The latter, virile and unconquerable, is plucking asunder its chains, and is vindicating its title to be the one refuge within which a sore-tried humanity, purged from its dross, can attain its destiny.
“Soon,” Baha’u’llah Himself has prophesied, “will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead.” And again: “By Myself! The day is approaching when We will have rolled up the world and all that is therein, and spread out a new Order in its stead.” – Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 17.
Although no definite time frame has been given for the consummation of these twin processes, it is clear that both are well underway, and are destined to converge in the fullness of time:
Such simultaneous processes of rise and of fall, of integration and of disintegration, of order and chaos, with their continuous and reciprocal reactions on each other, are but aspects of a greater Plan, one and indivisible, whose Source is God, whose author is Baha’u’llah, the theater of whose operations is the entire planet, and whose ultimate objectives are the unity of the human race and the peace of all mankind. – Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 72-73.
Baha’u’llah not only revealed principles and teachings for humanity—he went even further by ordaining a system of governance that will ensure the successful implementation of his laws. Baha’is believe this system is the precursor and the nucleus and pattern of a new world order that will emerge in the fullness of time.
As we have seen, Baha’u’llah established a new Covenant designed to provide continuing guidance for the Baha’i community after his passing. That Covenant centers around the person of Abdu’l-Baha. After him, Shoghi Effendi became the source of infallible guidance. After Shoghi Effendi’s death, the Universal House of Justice was brought into being. Today that body, consisting of nine members elected by the world community of Baha’is, continues to guide the affairs of the Baha’i Faith. The permanent seat of the Universal House of Justice is in Haifa, Israel, in the precincts of the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel.
The Universal House of Justice is empowered to legislate on all matters not expressly covered in the Baha’i writings. It has the authority to amend or abrogate its own decisions as circumstances dictate. Thus the Baha’i Faith now has not only a firm, general framework for its future evolution as provided in its sacred scriptures, but also the necessary flexibility to adapt to changes that will surely be dramatic over the course of the centuries to come.
Baha’u’llah himself ordained the establishment of the Universal House of Justice. According to clear stipulations in his writings, that body is infallibly guided by God. Abdu’l-Baha in his Will and Testament states:
… the guardian of the Cause of God as well as the Universal House of Justice, to be universally elected and established, are both under the care and protection of [Baha’u’llah], under the shelter and unerring guidance of His Holiness, the Exalted One [the Bab] …. Whatsoever they decide is of God. – p. 11.
The administrative machinery of the Baha’i Faith, designed to help ensure its unity and to promote its principles, also extends to the local level. In The Most Holy Book we find:
The Lord hath ordained that in every city a House of Justice be established wherein shall gather counselors to the number of Baha [meaning 9 people], and should it exceed this number it doth not matter. They should consider themselves as entering the Court of the presence of God, the Exalted, the Most High, and as beholding Him Who is the Unseen. It behooveth them to be the trusted ones of the Merciful among men and to regard themselves as the guardians appointed of God for all that dwell on earth. It is incumbent upon them to take counsel together and to have regard for the interests of the servants of God, for His sake, even as they regard their own interests, and to choose that which is meet and seemly. Thus hath the Lord your God commanded you. Beware lest ye put away that which is clearly revealed in His Tablet. Fear God, O ye that perceive. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 29.
Today these local governing bodies of the Baha’i Faith are called Local Spiritual Assemblies. These institutions will evolve and mature over the course of time until they become the Houses of Justice envisioned by Baha’u’llah. The members of the Local Assemblies are elected annually by the adult members of the community in every town or locality where at least nine adult believers reside. Because there is no clergy, any adult believer resident in a particular locality is eligible to serve as a member of that community’s Local Spiritual Assembly.
At the national level there are National Spiritual Assemblies, also elected once each year by the believers, and also consisting of nine members. In some cases these serve regions or territories rather than nations. Their responsibility is to oversee the affairs of the Faith in their respective countries. Though the Local Assemblies and National Assemblies are aided by the Spirit of God, only the Universal House of Justice is infallibly guided.
It may at first be difficult to appreciate how administrative matters could possibly be important in religion. Administration, as it is usually experienced and practiced, is not a spiritual exercise. In the Baha’i Faith, however, such is not the case. First of all, the administrative institutions of the Baha’i Faith have been explicitly called into being by Baha’u’llah himself, and they are invested by him with spiritual powers and the necessary authority to ensure the successful realization of his teachings. The system is founded upon the recognition of the oneness of humanity, providing the means to safeguard the rights and privileges of all and stimulating the constant advancement of a world civilization inspired by the highest spiritual values.