BOOK REVIEW OF WHAT’S RIGHT WITH THE CHURCH by William Willimon
What’s Right with the Church is a hopeful, encouraging, and genuine book about the definition and purposes of the church. It is an uplifting book and helps one in full-time vocational ministry keep their ministry focused. William Willimon addresses difficult questions and does not avoid topics that cause many lay church leaders discomfort. Willimon does a good job of speaking to the particulars of the church and how one can best live out the commands of Christ in a genuine and authentic way. He does a good job of answering the why and the how the church was created and how it can reflect the image of Christ to the world. He said too many fail to take the message of the church to the hard facts of the particulars of life.
Like Christ, the church speaks of making the commands and admonitions of the Bible into the cold and real life activities of “Monday morning.” Too many outside the church fail to see the reason the church conducts its services and the way it organizes the ministries of the church They do not comprehend any positive benefit from the liturgy and from the many repetitions of worship. Most people love Jesus but many do not love His bride. As Willimon quotes Southey, “I could believe in Christ if He did not drag behind Him His leprous bride, the Church.” This book helps one to love the bride of Christ and be encouraged by God’s plan for the Church in this world.
Willimon says that we see the church not “as an ideal, invisible, philosophical abstraction but as a visible, specific gathering of people in the name and spirit of Christ.” It is those people that are seeking to live out the commands of God and to display through the church the character of God to the world. Sadly, that is not the case too often and the authentic people of the church for many are an embarrassment and a stumbling block. The strongest critics are those from the inside looking out. We idealize and romanticize the concept of church and when our expectations are not met, many often leave the church or cause great harm within the church with their vocal discontent. But it is only within the body of Christ can we know how the Christian can celebrate the very presence of Christ and live out his or her faith in a genuine way. It is only within the body of Christ can we learn of God’s grace and see models of how that grace is to be lived out. As a soldier is trained through the rigors of boot camp, a Christian is developed through the crucible of the church. Willimon makes an excellent point that in the church, “the truth is constantly and habitually held before us until we either see or reject the truth.”
The community of believers called the church allows the believer to actualize and come to understand what being released from the concept of sin really means. So that believer is then able to go into the world and display the character of Christ in forgiving his or her neighbor. This community is the only one that is formed, criticized by the truth of God. Willimon said that is the only fundamentally sound reason to be a member. The church exists because God wills and it where He is, there is the church. God sustains the church because of His great purposes in drawing the world to Himself through the work of the church.
The church is already in the world whether it likes it for not. So the question of the church’s involvement in the world is not why but really how it is to be involved. The problem for the church is usually not withdrawing from the world but having the world transform the church into its image. The church must relate to the world based on who the church is in Christ. We belong to another Kingdom and we must live out our convictions in a world that is counterculture to those convictions. The church must offer something better to believe in before it tells the world to give up its gods. The church must live out a social policy rather than provide suggestions for the government. The greatest need and challenge for the church is to simply be the church, to love one another, and to offer our lives for the sake of the world.
Through the ritual and habit forming ministries of the church, one learns morals and ethics. The church is the central place of a Christian’s moral foundation. One learns how to act through practicing within the church. In our relationship with Christ, we are then enabled to love our neighbor. In this relationship with Christ, because of our love for Christ, our energies are released to follow His admonitions and example.
Willimon’s has a clear statement, “Anybody may appreciate or admire the Bible. Only the church lives the Bible, uses it as Scripture, stands under it as truth itself.” It is to the point and really highlights for me the vital importance of the church. The Bible only makes sense within the context of the church because it is a conversation between God and God’s community. Through the preaching of the Word of God, the preacher has the opportunity to confront people with the truth of God and to allow the truth to transform them. It is difficult and honestly, quite overwhelming at times.
Willimon compares worship to the actions of two lovers—singings, writing poetry, acquiring new wardrobes, sending flowers, crying, shouting, and dancing. These are the actions of people who are in love and they may be excessive but they reflect the depth of the love. The church’s worship on Sunday is a way of being in love. Because God has loved us, we must return the love. The love of God explains the worship of the church.
The standard the Willimon sets for the priesthood is very high. He says that the ordination impels the pastor to walk with the whole church in mind. He or she acts as the “community person” with authorization from the whole church. Our job is to think about God and His people. It is not a profession but a vocation and a calling.
In conclusion, Willimon does a good job of highlighting the vital importance of the church and its very unique role in the world. No other organization can be the church, created and sustained by God. Other organizations can provide similar services but no one can present to the world the paradigm of the colony of heaven. The church is where one lives out their Christian walk and has their ethics, their morals, and their understanding of who they are developed within the church. Willimon sets the bar high for ministers and presents our task as something only God can accomplish through us.