Outside the Circle (One Christian’s Perspective on the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service)
Recently the city of Louisville lost one of its most beloved sons. Muhammad Ali passed into eternity last week and a memorial service was held in his honor at the KFC YUM! Center. I attended this service at the request of my boss. The experience was eye opening and to me, very sad.
As most people know, Ali was a famous boxer and later in life a famous humanitarian. By all accounts he was very generous and sought the betterment of his fellow man. One thing that was clear from the memorial service was that his name change from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali was not a political stunt or done flippantly. Ali’s Muslim faith was central to his life. He also had a very ecumenical view of spiritually. This was obvious in his request to have an interfaith service at his memorial. Many faiths were represented on the stage ranging from a catholic priest to Native American Spiritual leaders.
During this three hour service, in which all of these various religious leaders spoke, I couldn’t help but realize how far outside the circle a Christian is who seeks to recognize only the Bible as authoritative for all spiritual matters. There was a heavy overtone of the belief that there are many paths to God. I must admit that I see the attraction in this theology. Looking at all of these different people in apparent harmony is very appealing and could easily draw one in. After all, these leaders are sincere in their beliefs and many of them seek to do good work.
But as Christians we have a problem. The problem is that Jesus said that He is the only way to God (John 14:6). He did not claim to be only a prophet or a great teacher. He claimed that He and God were One (John 10:30). The reality is that Christianity is not compatible with the other religions of the world. Christianity makes clear that there are not many paths to God, but only one path, and that path is Jesus. So as the crowd cheered and basked in the harmony of the moment, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad and lonely. Lonely because I knew that I could never be in this circle. I realized that I will always be on the outside. Sad because this man that was being celebrated as now enjoying the benefits of the afterlife that Allah promises is burning in a sinner’s hell. The path to destruction truly is broad.
President Bill Clinton was the final speaker at this event and said something that I thought was remarkable. When talking about Ali refusing to enter the draft, he said that Ali was willing to live with the consequences of what he believed. There is wisdom in this statement. As Christians, we each have to consider this very question. Once we choose to believe that Jesus is who He says He is, are we willing to live with this choice? The consequence of this belief is that we will be outside the circle. It will mean that many will call us divisive. But it will also mean that some will be saved. The church does not exist to make peace with the religions of the world, but to divide truth from heresy. This was what Jesus was referring to when He said that He didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). Since the tower of Babel men have sought to unify apart from God, but the only true unity is in Christ. The church has battled for two thousand years to maintain the supremacy of Christ and our battle remains the same today.