Another category of people who wielded enormous power was the clergy. Throughout the whole period of recorded history these men held the reins of power in their hands, and guided the masses in their ways. This was perhaps necessary as in former days most people were illiterate and needed to be led by someone. The authority with which religious leaders acted within the community, both in the East and the West, was so deeply rooted in the hearts of people that even kings were bound to obey them. To cite one example: the kings of the Qajar dynasty in Persia ruled as powerful dictators of a totalitarian regime. At one stage, one of the leading divines of Persia had forbidden people to smoke. Although this order did not last very long, everyone had to obey it until it was rescinded. Even the Qajar King in his palace did not dare to smoke. Such was the sway of the word of the clergy when Bahá’u’lláh appeared! With a stroke of His mighty Pen, He abolished the institution of priesthood and announced that He had seized their power, a power they had wielded from time immemorial.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 3, p. 162)
Does it not seem strange that Christian sects should have instituted the monastic life and celibacy for the clergy, in view of the facts that Christ chose married men for His disciples, and both He Himself and His apostles lived lives of active beneficence, in close association and familiar intercourse with the people?
(Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 176)
For Baháism has no clergy, no religious ceremonial, no public prayers; its only dogma is belief in God and in his Manifestations (Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, et al., Bahá’u’lláh).
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. vii)
As far as recorded history shows, every religion has had its leaders. In past Dispensations, the clergy played a major part in conducting the affairs of religion. They became the most vital element in the fabric of human society, and exerted a powerful influence in the life of the community. They gained a great deal of authority which never waned until the coming of Bahá’u’lláh, when by one stroke of His exalted Pen, he stripped them of a power they had enjoyed since the beginning of time. He wrote in one of His Tablets:
From two ranks amongst men power hath been seized: kings and ecclesiastics. The creative influence of the words of Bahá’u’lláh in this and similar pronouncements has set in motion the process of the disintegration of religious institutions and the progressive downfall of their leaders, who are increasingly becoming aware of their impotence to exercise a meaningful influence upon their communities.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 271-272)
It is important to understand the nature of leadership in the Bahá’í community—a religious community without clergy. The emphasis on group leadership, as opposed to individual power, runs throughout the Bahá’í administrative system, which has two branches: one composed of councils elected to govern; the other composed of individuals appointed to inspire and advise.
(Bahá’í International Community, 1995 Aug 26, Status of Women in Bahá’í Community)
It is the work of the clergy to educate the people, to instruct them, to give them good advice and teaching so that they may progress spiritually.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 132)
It seems both strange and pitiful that the Church and clergy should always, in every age, be the most bitter opponents of the very Truth they are continually admonishing their followers to be prepared to receive! They have become so violently attached to the form that the substance itself eludes them!
(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 419)
Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people. By their sanction and authority, every Prophet of God hath drunk from the chalice of sacrifice, and winged His flight unto the heights of glory. What unspeakable cruelties they that have occupied the seats of authority and learning have inflicted upon the true Monarchs of the world, those Gems of divine virtue! Content with a transitory dominion, they have deprived themselves of an everlasting sovereignty.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 1, p. 163-164)
Many of the most valuable, enkindled and erudite teachers the Cause has possessed were formerly members of the clergy, Islamic or Christian.
(Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá’í Community, p. 442)
Nor is there any doubt that members of the Christian clergy will rise up against it in implacable hostility, wishing to injure and oppress you, and seeking to assail you with doubts; for the spread of the Cause of God will lead to the waning of their fortunes—as the fortunes of the Pharisees had waned before them—and entail the loss of the dignity and standing that they now enjoy amongst men.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 155)
One of the inestimable privileges which Bahá’u’lláh has conferred upon His followers is that He has summoned them to serve His Cause. In older Dispensations, the Cause of God was usually administered by a few, the religious leaders or clergy. The rest of the people did not have the same opportunity. But in this Dispensation every human being who recognizes the station of Bahá’u’lláh and is enlisted in His Faith, whether young or old, learned or unlettered, rich or poor, can render services to the Cause of God. In many of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh urges the believers to arise and promote the Faith of God. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas too there are several references to this. There is no limit to serving the Cause. One need not be educated or have influence and standing in society to serve. Often it is the simple people of the world, sometimes illiterate, who rise to great heights of service in the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 3, p. 395-396)
Regarding the question of paid teachers as we have no clergy or priests there is no paid career open to Bahá’í teachers.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 571)
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.
(Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 180)
There is no clergy in the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, but He has exhorted His followers to honour the truly learned in the Cause, those whose knowledge and learning have not become the cause of pride and self-glorification.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 209)
We have every reason to hope and believe that in the future many of the truly enlightened clergy may seek the shelter of Bahá’u’lláh, just as we feel certain that we may also expect at some future date a keen antagonism to our Faith on the part of those who do not see in it the salvation of the world, but rather challenge to their own fame and position.
(Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 149)