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Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era

  • Author:
  • J. E. Esslemont

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 edition
  • Pages:
  • 286
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Pages 179-181

Spiritual Assemblies

Before ‘Abdu’l-Bahá completed His earthly mission, He had laid a basis for the development of the administrative order 180 established in Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings. To show the high importance to be attributed to the institution of the Spiritual Assembly, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in a tablet declared that a certain translation must be approved by the Spiritual Assembly of Cairo before publication, even though He Himself had reviewed and corrected the text.
By Spiritual Assembly is meant the administrative body of nine persons, elected annually by each local Bahá’í community, in which is vested the authority of decision on all matters of mutual action on the part of the community. This designation is temporary, since in future the Spiritual Assemblies will be termed Houses of Justice.
Unlike the organization of churches, these Bahá’í bodies are social rather than ecclesiastical institutions. That is, they apply the law of consultation to all questions and difficulties arising between Bahá’ís, who are called upon no to carry them to the civil court, and seek to promote unity as well as justice throughout the community. The Spiritual Assembly is in no wise equivalent to the priest or clergy, but is responsible for upholding the teachings, stimulating active service, conducting meetings, maintaining unity, holding Bahá’í property in trust for the community, and representing it in its relations to the public and to other Bahá’í communities.
The nature of the Spiritual Assembly, local and national, is described more fully in the section devoted to the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the final chapter, but its general functions have been defined by Shoghi Effendi as follows:—
The matter of Teaching, its direction, its ways and means, its extension, its consolidation, essential as they are to the interests of the Cause, constitute by no means the only issue which should receive the full attention of these Assemblies. A careful study of Bahá’u’lláh’s and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablets will reveal that other duties, no less vital to the interests of the Cause, devolve upon the elected representatives of the friends in every locality.

It is incumbent upon them to be vigilant and cautious, discreet and watchful, and protect at all times the Temple 181 of the Cause from the dart of the mischief-maker and the onslaught of the enemy.
They must endeavor to promote amity and concord amongst the friends, efface every lingering trace of distrust, coolness and estrangement from every heart, and secure in its stead an active and whole-hearted cooperation for the service of the Cause.

They must do their utmost to extend at all times the helping hand to the poor, the sick, the disabled, the orphan, the widow, irrespective of color, caste and creed.

They must promote by every means in their power the material as well as the spiritual enlightenment of youth, the means for the education of children, institute, whenever possible, Bahá’í educational institutions, organize and supervise their work and provide the best means for their progress and development. …

They must undertake the arrangement of the regular meetings of the friends, the feasts and the anniversaries, as well as the special gatherings designed to serve and promote the social, intellectual and spiritual interests of their fellow-men.

They must supervise in these days when the Cause is still in its infancy all Bahá’í publications and translations, and provide in general for a dignified and accurate presentation of all Bahá’í literature and its distribution to the general public.
The possibilities inherent in Bahá’í institutions can only be estimated when one realizes how rapidly modern civilization is disintegrating for lack of that spiritual power which can alone supply the necessary attitude of responsibility and humility to the leaders and the requisite loyalty to the individual members of society.