I love "the Bride" in concept. I am devoted to "the body of Christ" in theory. Its the reality of them both that bites, sometimes. And I should know.
I'm all into loving my brother, until "my brother" is someone in my church who bugs me. I'm all about grace, until grace must be extended to someone who is so deeply under law they wouldn't know grace if it kissed them on the cheek...
Let's take New Testament Living to the next level (maybe even to "the third level", to borrow from the delightfully rambling and thought provoking blog of the dear Chris and Christine Welch) - that of actually living it past the point of our pain. Can we take it the extra mile, into loving others all the way past our doctrinal differences, sacrificing the sacred cows of our deepest hurts sustained in church life, dismounting our Holy High Horses? Whatever made us think that church life was warm and fuzzy? It never has been, and it never will be, not this side of eternity anyhow. In the words of one of the Great Dead Guys, Matthew Henry (I think it was) who said, "We do not yet live amongst just men made perfect...we live amongst 'just men' ", I'm thinking it is time that we get on with the program. No one is saying "get over it", I'm saying get ON with it, in spite of it. God's program, His "plan A" is still the local church.
Sure, there is a church universal. She's awesome. She's as terrible as an army with banners. She embodies all that God is about in this hour - which is to demonstrate His Great Goodness to a watching world, through what seems to be uninspired vessels - thereby bringing many sons into glory. Just as the God who dwells in unapproachable light came down from His greatness, into the womb of a woman....the church universal in all her splendor must become an approachable, human entity. The church universal is expressed and defined by each church local.
In church, tomorrow morning, I will tell myself, "This is the church. This is what 'church life' looks like." It may or may not be splendid to the naked eye.
That's called "bringing it home". That's called making our theology affect our biography. We all love the church universal. But try "having all things in common" with the universal church. Try imitating the faith of "those over you" in the universal church. (I suppose you could wear Kim Clement's hairstyle, or attempt Benny Hinn's wonderful accent, or try to preach like your favorite Christian Superstar...)
But try forgiving the universal church, bearing the burdens of it, and speaking only that which is good to the use of edifying....with the ethereal "church universal". How about simply "putting up" with the church universal? It can't be done. Much of Christianity gets lost in the translation without the church local.
And a group of people have to have more than a creed and a livingroom and their own insecurities in common to actually BE a local church. We may begin with nothing but a creed and a livingroom and our own insecurities, but we don't remain that way for years...not and be a healthy expression of the local church.
Most of New Testament Christianity cannot be actually lived, without the covenant relationships inherent in a healthy local church.
There. I said it. Let the games begin.