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The Baha’i teachings strongly emphasize the inextricable, spiritual relationship between knowledge and action.
This tenet clearly distinguishes the Baha’i view of the just purposes of physical reality from the views of Boethius and also from the Protestant concept of salvation through grace.
The ceaseless debate among Christian theologians about whether one is “saved” by faith or by works is so critical to any discussion of the purpose of physical reality—even in contemporary Christian discourse—that it would be helpful here to briefly review its origins and its significance.
Certainly the earliest Christians were divided over this issue. Paul and James seem to argue about which has primacy, faith or works. Paul stated that faith is the sole requisite for salvation, whereas James asserted that all should be “doers of the word, and not hearers only,” and that works are the “completion of faith.” – James 1:22.
Stated more axiomatically from a Baha’i perspective, faith, together with virtue of every sort, is entirely theoretical until it is expressed in action.
This early division in Christianity over the issue of salvation through grace, especially as it relates to the question of whether or not Christ was God, established for all time the perception by many adherents of Christianity that Christ’s martyrdom was the singular significant event in the life of Christ or in religious history as a whole. From such a perspective, the Christian religion is necessarily a unique event in God’s expression of His love for humankind and the sole avenue whereby God’ grace can be attained—the only way to salvation.
So common a reference as the Encyclopaedia Britannica alludes to this early ideological division among Christ’s disciples and among the early followers of Christianity, also mentioning in this connection that the Apostle Paul stressed a complete break with the Judaic emphasis on law and viewed the crucifixion as “the supreme redemptive act and also as the means of expiation for the sin of man.” – Chadwick, “Christianity before the Schism of 1054,” p. 535.
However the Disciple James, brother of Jesus, viewed Christ’s ministry as fulfilling the Judaic religion, not rejecting it:
Paul linked this doctrine [of salvation through the grace of God] with his theme that the Gospel represents liberation from the Mosaic Law. The latter thesis created difficulties at Jerusalem, where the church was under the presidency of James, the brother of Jesus. . . . the canonical letter ascribed to James opposes the antinomian (antilaw) interpretations of the doctrine of justification by faith. A middle position seems to have been occupied by Peter. – Ibid.
Christ himself stated that he did not “come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” He goes on to advise his followers that their own actions are essential to their salvation:
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Mathew 5:17, 20.
He then proceeds to reveal a fairly exacting code of law in which he abrogates some of the Judaic laws, confirms others, and adds some more throughout the twenty-seven remaining verses of Mathew chapter 5 and the sixty-two verses of chapters 6 and 7.
He concludes this exegesis on law and moral behavior with the well-known admonition:
And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it. – Mathew 7:26-27.
Paul’s numerous statements de-emphasizing and even denouncing “works” and “obedience to law” as having any relevance to salvation seem strangely at odds with Christ’s own advice. Paul stated:
We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified. – Gal. 2:15–16.
In The Light Shineth in Darkness, Udo Schaefer goes so far as to assert that Paul’s polemic against law was from Paul’s own theology, not from Christ’s. He further contends that much of future Christianity would derive its system of beliefs from the teachings of Paul, not from the teachings of Christ. – pp. 95-97.
Because Paul’s interpretation of Christ’s teachings largely determined the future course of Christian thought, much of contemporary Christianity accepts the doctrine that Christ and God are the same entity, and that Christ’s martyrdom was sufficient payment for the salvation of humankind. For example, one Christian tract states this belief succinctly as follows:
You can do nothing to earn eternal life. It is not our work that saves us, but Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You do not receive Eternal life by working for it or by trying to make yourself behave. Accept the payment He has made for your sins and you can rest and be assured you have eternal life.
For Baha’is, recognizing the messengers of God and appreciating the absolutely essential nature of their sacrifices for the sake of our salvation and enlightenment is extremely significant—but it is not sufficient by itself to enable us to spiritually transform. Hand in hand with recognizing the prophets and acknowledging their exalted station and exemplary life must go obedience to the laws and ordinances they reveal for our guidance.
For Baha’is, this relationship between belief and action is inextricable. From the Baha’i perspective, physical reality and our participation in it are not merely reflections of belief or embellishments of faith. Baha’u’llah stated succinctly that belief and action are inseparable constituents of one integral process: “These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other.” – The Most Holy Book, p. 19.
So the Baha’i writings agree with the spirit of Boethius’ observation that universal justice is being wrought over a period of time. The Baha’i point of view also agrees with the idea that as individuals we may have to await the afterlife before we see justice done. But the Baha’i perspective about the just purposes of and proper attitude toward physical reality differs radically from the views of the Christian stoics who found in Boethius’ work support for rejecting the vita activa. Instead, the Baha’i teachings urge us all to “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.” – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 24.