How important is the synagogue, church, mosque or other structure?
Answer: No one objects to the
building of hospitals, schools, courts, government buildings, etc., but
one hears occasional criticism of houses of worship as being costly and
unnecessary appendages to religion.
The usual underlying assumption is that religions should outwardly
demonstrate poverty and that such buildings are a waste of money
because the real community consists only of the believers and the
belief and value system that inspires them.
In the Bahá’í Faith, the building of houses of worship is actually
mandated by Prophet-Founder Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), in his Most Holy
Book, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. However, the point to note is that worship is
not the sole or even the most important function of Bahá’í temples. In
the Bahá’í religion, worship must be integrated with social service.
Consequently, the Bahá’í house of worship has been designed by
‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son and successor of Bahá’u’lláh, to have
five dependencies: a school, a university, a hospital, a pharmacy, and
a hospice. Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), the Guardian of the Bahá’í
Faith, the successor of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, indicated that these dependencies
“shall afford relief to the suffering, sustenance to the poor, shelter
to the wayfarer, solace to the bereaved, and education to the ignorant”
(Bahá’í Administration, p. 184).
While the Bahá’í community has not yet reached this ideal at the
present stage of its development, in the future, houses of worship will
be constructed in every town and village. For the present, Bahá’í
temples exist on every continent. Worship services are conducted
locally in Bahá’í centres and homes. But social service remains
integral to the practice of Bahá’í spirituality.
To answer today’s question more directly: Although the smaller
community can exist without the bricks-and-mortar, once any world
religion becomes established, permanent structures are required. The
belief system that generates any religion increasingly demands the
concrete expression of those same beliefs in social institutions that
are intended to serve the welfare of the community. With this
perspective in mind, the bricks-and-mortar are not only important —
they are absolutely necessary. -