[Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a multi-part essay called “Questions from a Clergyman”. Click here to read from the beginning.]
Here’s the context for this article and this series — a “Cult Night” at one local Christian church where an evangelical pastor (aka “Daniel”) presented his view of the Baha’i Faith, and gave the Baha’i’s present an opportunity to clarify the issues he raised. I was the chosen speaker for the “cult” because I had come into the Baha’i Faith from a Christian background — and many of the questions Daniel asked I had asked as well.
Pastor Daniel’s first question: “The Bible tells us Christ — and therefore God — is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Doesn’t the concept of progressive revelation mean God changes?”
A Christian professes that Christ is the author, object, and completion of her faith. A Baha’i also professes this — because, to a Baha’i, there is no point at which Christ ends and Baha’u’llah begins. Though Jesus of Nazareth and Baha’u’llah were different physical Lamps, the Light that shone in and through Them is the same Light.
How am I so sure? I have the testimony of Christ and the prophets, and the spiritual fruits of the life and teachings of Baha’u’llah as assurance.
As a mother, I sometimes joke about freezing my children at a particular age, but I know that’s neither possible nor desirable. They must grow to adulthood, find their own beliefs and develop the maturity to become complete human beings. They must change. As they change, I must change the way I relate to them and teach them. I must speak to them more clearly, explain things more directly, and let them search for the meaning in their own lives.
Likewise, in our relationship with God both as individuals and as a species, God alters the way He speaks to humanity. We can see this in scripture. Moses spoke of the appearance of another Prophet like Him who would be raised up among the Jewish people, the one the Torah refers to as “The Prince, the Messiah.” His name is not Moses, His station is different. But He is a Prophet like Moses nonetheless — a Prophet who sees God face to Face. Christ confirms that this refers to Him in John 5:46 when He says: “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me.”
When Christ appeared, He changed Mosaic laws, which outraged the Jews. Christ says of Moses’ law of divorce:
Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. – Matthew 19:8.
He then proceeds to give a new teaching. Baha’is understand this as progressive revelation – God’s continuing education of humanity.
Did God’s feelings about marriage change? No, but our hearts (and our capacity) did.
Jesus claims He is authorized to teach what Moses could not, then tells His disciples there is much He cannot reveal because it goes beyond even their capacity to understand. In John 16:12 Christ says:
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…
He also speaks of going away so that God will send “another Counselor,” reminding us of Moses’ statement that God will send “another Prophet.” The book of Hebrews supports this reading:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son… – Hebrews 1:1.
Jesus, Himself, declared: ‘I go away and come again unto you.’ Consider the sun. Were it to say now, ‘I am the sun of yesterday,’ it would speak the truth. …In like manner, if it be said that all the days are but one and the same, it is correct and true. And if it be said, with respect to their particular names and designations, that they differ, that again is true. …Conceive accordingly the distinction, variation, and unity characteristic of the various Manifestations of holiness … and discover the answer to thy question as to why that everlasting Beauty should have, at sundry times, called Himself by different names and titles… – Gleanings XIII.
Given the pattern God revealed in the Old and New Testaments alone, the prophecy in the Revelation of Saint John that speaks of Christ having “a New Name” should come as no surprise. As a Baha’i, I believe that Christ has returned, in this “renewal of all things,” seated upon His “glorious throne,” with the New Name of Baha’u’llah — the Glory of God.
He has a new name – Baha’u’llah — and a new physical vessel, but that Vessel doesn’t contend or compete with Jesus of Nazareth – just as Jesus didn’t compete with Moses.
Read the next article in the series: End of the World?
Read the previous article in the series: Cult Night and the Baha’i Faith