Ephesians and the unity of mankind

Many Baha’is believe that Christianity is a message of individual salvation while the Baha’i Faith is about the salvation of the human race. This is a false contrast, based on a misunderstanding of Christianity. The post will be the first in a series intended to refute this notion.

In a comment to the post Shoghi Effendi and Christian Authority, Mr. Poirier quoted a passage from Shoghi Effendi’s The Promised Day Is Come, p. 119:

The Revelation associated with the Faith of Jesus Christ focused attention primarily on the redemption of the individual and the molding of his conduct, and stressed, as its central theme, the necessity of inculcating a high standard of morality and discipline into man, as the fundamental unit in human society. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find any reference to the unity of nations or the unification of mankind as a whole. When Jesus spoke to those around Him, He addressed them primarily as individuals rather than as component parts of one universal, indivisible entity.

Only by reading the New Testament as a whole (along with some notable sections of the Old Testament) can you see the magnitude of how way off Shoghi Effendi is. Since I can’t quote all of that on this blog, what I will do in this and subsequent posts in this series, God willing, is to point out a few passages here and there.

This passage is from the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

Therefore, remember that at one time you, Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision, which is done in the flesh by human hands, were at that time without Christ, alienated from the community of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.

He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Observe:

As Paul describes it, there were two parts to the human race, the Hebrews and the Gentiles. But that separation is done away in Christ. The cross (i.e. the event of the crucifixion) erases the disunity in the human race and forges a single humanity.

(This is echoed in some other places in Paul’s writings, such as in Galatians, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus, and in Colossians, here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.)

Far from depicting salvation as an individual matter, he portrays the community of believers as a single unit. Notice the metaphors Paul uses in the third paragraph quoted above (i.e. verses 17-22). The Church is a household, both in the sense of a family and in the sense of a building. Other words he uses are structure, temple and dwelling. And in the second paragraph the Church is a single person, with Christ the head.

That is the vision of Christianity: a single body of believers, welded together (or to use Paul’s metaphors here, grafted together and mortared together) into a single community that, as a unit, is saved by Christ and reconciled to God. And this is the Christian vision of mankind’s unity: that we are united through the blood of the cross – united with each other at the same time we are united with God.

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