Believing “in” and believing “that”

A recent post on Baha’i Views (On the Baha’i Faith as in Harmony with True Christianity: Andre greets Osita) reminded me of a misleading approach that the Central Figures and modern Baha’is take when teaching Christians. A Christian asks a Baha’i if Baha’is believe in Christ, and the Baha’i responds by talking about what he believes about Christ and how positively Baha’is regard him. Here are a couple quotes from Abdu’l-Baha that are used in the post:

Every soul who believed in Jesus Christ became revivified and resuscitated through this spirit, attained to the zenith of eternal glory, realized the life everlasting, experienced the second birth and rose to the acme of good fortune.

…Then know that for the dominion of the reality of Christ there is no beginning and there is no end. Everlastingly that luminous Entity hath been sitting on the throne of might and everlastingly It will have a penetrating dominion over the worlds of existence…

Quotes like these can serve to increase a seeker’s comfort level, but they are not promoting true understanding. Rather, they are confusing the phrase “believe in” with the phrase “believe that”.

What does it really mean to say one “believes in” Christ? Is it like believing in Santa Claus, as in believing that he exists? Is it like believing in your friend, i.e. that you have confidence in her? No, obviously when people say they believe in Christ they mean something else.

When a Christian says she believes in Christ, that is shorthand for two things: first, that she believes a set of propositions about Christ, and second (which is based on the first), that she has a personal relationship with him. It is very unlikely the Christian is asking if Baha’is have a positive opinion of Christ, so responding by talking about how wonderful you think Christ is does not answer the question. The Christian wants to know if you believe what she believes about Christ.

From the Christian perspective, if you believe in Christ, that necessarily means you believe that Christ is the second person of the Trinity who took on a human body and spirit and then, after dying on the cross, brought that body and spirit to life for eternity on Easter morning. If Baha’is can’t say they believe that those things are true, then they shouldn’t be so nonchalant in telling Christians they believe in Christ. If they don’t qualify what they mean by believing in Christ, then they are not so much teaching as misleading.

My own experience as a Baha’i was like that. I tried so hard to make Christians comfortable with the Baha’i Faith in hopes they would convert, that often Christians walked away from our conversations thinking the Baha’i Faith is a Christian denomination.

The solution to that is of course to explain that Christianity was a dispensation that lasted for only 600 years and was succeeded by Islam. The Baha’i Faith is not a denomination of anything, but a separate world religion. But then that only confuses people. “Wait, the Baha’i Faith isn’t part of Christianity? Didn’t you just say you believe in Christ?”

Then you have to separate Christ and Christianity in the person’s mind, and persuade them that Christ was basically a Baha’i, not a Christian. So the conversation has gone from, “We believe the same thing. We both believe in Christ” to “Most of what you believe about Christ is wrong. Only Baha’is believe the truth about Christ.” Juxtaposed, these statements might make seekers think you were trying to pull a fast one on them.


The Martyrs of China

The Chinese Martyrs

St. Augustine Zhao Rong and companions, martyrs

July 9 in the Baha’i Faith is the commemoration of the Martyrdom of the Bab.  In the Catholic Church, July 9 is the feast day commemorating the Martyrs of China.

There have been Christians in China for about 1,400 years, but it has always been a small minority.  Today there are 70 million Christians in China, about 5 percent of the country’s population.  Periodically over the centuries the Chinese government has persecuted the Christian minority, a state of affairs that has continued in modern times.  120 of these martyrs have been canonized as saints, and July 9 is their collective feast day.  These 120 martyrs were killed over a span of time from the 1600s through the early twentieth century.

One of the most famous of these martyrs is a convert named Zhao Rong.  He was a soldier in the Chinese army at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the emperor instigated a new wave of persecutions.  One day Zhao Rong was assigned to accompany a French missionary to the place of execution.  When the missionary refused to recant his faith in Christ and chose death instead, Zhao Rong realized that though the missionary outwardly seemed weak, in reality he displayed more strength than a soldier.  He converted and took the name Augustine, and was later ordained a priest.  He was martyred in 1815.

A large number of Christians were killed during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.  Among them was a young man named Chi Zhuzi, 18 years old.  They skinned him alive but he refused to deny Christ.  Then they cut off his right arm and he cried, “Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood will tell you I’m a Christian!”

There is more information about the Chinese martyrs on the Vatican website here.