Above all, the utmost endeavor should be exerted by your Assembly to familiarize the newly enrolled believers with the fundamental and spiritual varieties of the Faith, and with the origins, the aims and purposes, as well as the processes of a divinely appointed administrative Order, to acquaint them more fully with the history of the Faith, and with the origins, the aims and purposes, as well as the processes of a divinely pointed Administrative Order, to acquaint them more fully with the history of the Faith, to instil in them a deeper understanding of the Covenants of both Bahá’u’lláh and of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to enrich their spiritual life, to rouse them to a greater effort and a closer participation in both the teaching of the Faith and the administration of its activities, and to inspire them to make the necessary sacrifices for the furtherance of its vital interests. For as the body of the avowed supporters of the Faith is enlarged, and the basis of the structure of its Administrative Order is broadened, and the fame of the rising community spreads far and wide, a parallel progress must be achieved, if the fruit already garnered are to endure, in the spiritual quickening of its member and the deepening of their inner life.
(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 76-77)
As the beloved Guardian’s secretary wrote on his behalf to an individual believer on 25 October 1949: “Without the spirit of real love for Bahá’u’lláh, for His Faith and its Institutions, and the believers for each other, the Cause can never really bring in large numbers of people. For it is not preaching and rules the world wants, but love and action.”
(The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)
Let him refrain, at the outset, from insisting on such laws and observances as might impose too severe a strain on the seeker’s newly awakened faith, and endeavor to nurse him, patiently, tactfully, and yet determinedly, into full maturity, and aid him to proclaim his unqualified acceptance of whatever has been ordained by Bahá’u’lláh. Let him, as soon as that stage has been attained, introduce him to the body of his fellow-believers, and seek, through constant fellowship and active participation in the local activities of his community, to enable him to contribute his share to the enrichment of its life, the furtherance of its tasks, the consolidations of its interests, and the coordination of its activities with those of its sister communities.
(Shoghi Effendi: Advent of Divine Justice, p. 52)
Membership in the Bahá’í community is open to all who profess faith in Bahá’u’lláh and accept his teachings. There are no initiation ceremonies, no sacraments, and no clergy. Every Bahá’í however, is under the spiritual obligation to pray daily; to fast 19 days a year, going without food or drink from sunrise to sunset; to abstain totally from narcotics, alcohol, or any substances that affect the mind; to practice monogamy; to obtain the consent of parents to marriage; and to attend the Nineteen Day Feast on the first day of each month of the Bahá’í calendar. Encyclopedia Brittanica article, p. 7)
The beloved Guardian, in the early years of his ministry, set out criteria for Spiritual Assemblies and Bahá’í teachers regarding the enrollment of new believers. In a letter dated 24 October 1925 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’í s of the United States and Canada, Shoghi Effendi wrote:
I would only venture to state very briefly and as adequately as present circumstances permit the principal factors that must be taken into consideration before deciding whether a person may be regarded a true believer or not. ‘Full recognition of the station of the Forerunner, the Author, and the True Exemplar of the Bahá’í Cause, as set forth in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s testament; unreserved acceptance of, and submission to, whatsoever has been revealed by their Pen; loyal and steadfast adherence to every clause of our Beloved’s sacred Will; and close association with the spirit as well as the form of the present day Bahá’í Administration throughout the world—these I conceive to be the fundamental and primary considerations that must be fairly, discreetly and thoughtfully ascertained before reaching such a vital decision.
(Shoghi Effendi: Bahá’í Administration, p.90)
Later in his ministry, however, after the administrative capacity to embrace larger numbers grew, the Guardian alerted the friends to the danger of being too rigid in the requirements for becoming a Bahá’í. For example, a letter dated 9 July 1957, written on his behalf to a National Spiritual Assembly, stated:
As he has written the Central and East Africa Assembly, he feels that the friends should be very careful not to place hindrances in the way of those who wish to accept the Faith. If we make the requirements too rigorous, we will cool off the initial enthusiasm, rebuff the hearts and cease to expand rapidly. The essential thing is that the candidate for enrolment should believe in his heart in the truth of Bahá’u’lláh. Whether he is literate or illiterate, informed of all the Teachings or not, is beside the point entirely. When the spark of faith exists the essential Message is there, and gradually everything else can be added unto it.
Today, we can generally be open and flexible in accepting individuals into the Bahá’í community. As the believers invite growing numbers of individuals to participate in a united effort to apply Bahá’u’lláh’s Teachings to the construction of a divine civilization, it becomes clear that the process of becoming a Bahá’í is best viewed as a continuum—based on independent investigation, engagement in service, and increasing understanding—rather than as dichotomous states of membership and non-membership.
(Universal House of Justice to an individual, 28 September 2014)
The early believers in both the East and the West, we must always remember, knew practically nothing compared to what the average Bahá’í knows about his Faith nowadays; yet they were the ones who shed their blood, the ones who arose and said: ‘I believe‘, requiring no proof, and often never having read a single word of the Teachings. Therefore, those responsible for accepting new enrollments must just be sure of one thing - that the heart of the applicant has been touched with the spirit of the Faith. Everything else can be built on this foundation gradually.
(Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 322)
Though declaration of faith and enrollment into the Bahá’í community may occur at the same moment, they do not necessarily have to do so, in light of the above passage. Where, for example, a tutor is accompanying seekers through the institute process and a seeker declares, it would not be unreasonable for formal enrollment to be deferred while the new believer is being nurtured to the point where he or she is ready to assume the responsibilities associated with membership in the community. In different parts of the world, as well as with different individuals, circumstances may vary, and it is left to the wisdom of the teacher and the discretion of the institutions to determine how to attract receptive souls, when to invite them to embrace the Faith, and how to nurture them to full maturity.
(Universal House of Justice to an individual, 28 September 2014)