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As a new engineering student in Michigan, Marshall was eager to make connections and develop contacts in the automotive industry. So when fellow grad students invited him to a Fellowship Dinner, he eagerly accepted. But this meeting wasn't really about networking and making friends. It was a recruitment vehicle for Baha'i.

Recently, Detroit and nearby Dearborn have become America's hub for more than just automotive ingenuity. The region is also assembling and disseminating several unique strains of Islam. One of them, Baha'i, is spreading rapidly, especially among affluent young adults. It now has over 6 million adherents worldwide. Before Christians can effectively respond to the teachings and engage followers of Baha'i, it helps to know a little about this trendy belief system.

The word Baha'i comes from an Arabic term that means glory or splendor. Begun in 1844, it's considered young among the world's religions. Mirza Ali Muhammad (a descendant by marriage of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) founded Baha'i. A convert named Baha'u'llah assumed leadership after the death of Mirza Ali, and it was his followers who came to be called Baha'is. Baha'u'llah declared himself to be the supreme Manifestation of God who would unify all great world religions.

Baha'i teaches that prophets have appeared throughout history, each progressively more perfect than the one before. The "Bab" or "Gate" (the name Mirza Ali took for himself), replaced all previous ones. Historian Bernard Lewis says this runs afoul of traditional Islam, noting of Baha'i's prophets, "Their very existence presents a challenge to the Islamic doctrine of the perfection and finality of Muhammad's revelation."

Baha'i teachings can be summed up as follows: the unity of God, of religion and of mankind. It emphasizes compulsory education, personal devotion and social action. Part of its appeal involves commitment to world peace. Baha'i sees humans as essentially good. Their problem is ignorance, not sin. To alleviate this spiritual ignorance, there supposedly have been many Manifestations of God, including Abraham, Moses, Muhammad, Krishna and the Bab. Jesus is also named among the great teachers, but not as the divine incarnation described in Scripture, often by the Lord Himself (John 8:23-24, 10:30, 13:13, 14:6-10).

The supreme objective of this religion is the unification of mankind around the tenets of Baha'i. Those principles (derived from the writings of Baha'u'llah) form a plan for a theocracy to be administered by Baha'i. But in spite of some worthwhile beliefs (the value of marriage and family, service to humanity), the teachings are replete with contradictions. They're not confirmed by any outside evidence and are incompatible with the Bible. Baha'i teaches that all religious leaders are equal manifestations of the divine mind. Yet those leaders presented conflicting claims and directives.

Baha'i has much to say about God, though it is believed that God can't truly be known. If God is unknowable, then what the Manifestations have taught about God cannot be trusted. Therefore, Baha'i essentially says, "We know that we can't know."

Meanwhile, many of its expressions and ceremonies mimic Christianity, which appeals to the Western mind. Baha'i places great emphasis on moral and spiritual education. But it rejects the foundational doctrines of Christianity. In the end, these folks don't mind if a teenager is a nominal Christian, but he or she must also acknowledge Baha'i.

"Reaching out to those enamored with Baha'i forced me to gain a deeper understanding of the Christian beliefs I was raised with," said Marshall. "After doing some remedial work on my own Christian growth, I began to equip myself to talk intelligently with converts to Baha'i. This included reading several books on apologetics and biblical worldview."

From urban areas to heartland America, Baha'i is here. Although Hollywood has yet to train its cameras on this belief system, teens need to be able to recognize it and understand how it differs from gospel truth. Baha'i seems to attract intelligent people concerned about world problems. They pride themselves on being insightful thinkers, so they're open to dialogue and social interaction. That gives young adults like Marshall—mature Christians with a heart for the lost—an opportunity to model respectful, authentic faith. But it could also make less mature believers vulnerable … especially if this spiritual counterfeit finds favor with the media.

Alex McFarland is Plugged In's teen apologetics expert. He's the author of books including Stand Strong in College and The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity.

Published April 2008

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