Recently I was engaged by a thought: is there any necessary correlation between Christ’s injunction to spread the gospel and conversion/admission into a singular community of believers? Now, obviously, communities of faith did emerge — and perhaps it could even be said that, practically speaking, they inevitably emerge — but the fact that the gospel (edit: would appear to) precedes the community seems significant to me.
I read most of the New Testament in terms of purposiveness: namely, that the purpose of the church, and thus the sum total of Christian activity, is the advancement of the gospel. E.g., on the one hand, if this means women must keep their heads covered and stay silent in one community, do it; but on the other hand, if this means women must serve crucial and vocal leadership roles in another community, do it. Really, the only operative rule is by any means necessary. (For this reason, Paul can even say in Philippians 1.18 that the motivations of false preachers doesn’t matter, as long as the gospel itself is advanced.) The community that emerges seems ultimately incidental, and perhaps even wholly contingent on how, to whom, and where the gospel is spread.
By this I’m not trying to simply reiterate contextual theology. Even there, there is still a singular community — it’s just dressed up differently from place to place/people to people. Is there, though, warrant to privilege a singular community’s role vis-à-vis the gospel. Of course, it can be said that any such community embodies the gospel, and to that extent it is important, but why the assumption that the gospel has but one potential body? This seems the case only if the gospel is strictly a determinate, content-laden message. If the gospel that is spread, however, is more precisely in line with the Prophets, and as such is a radical call to and empowerment for universal justice, wherein those who are most low are brought most high, the ecclesial embodiment would seem to require more than just contextual and cosmetic differences — indeed more even than the infinite expansiveness of some abstract or spirtual concept (i.e., “the Church”) — but outright multiplicity.
What we would have, then, are communities of faith, whose participants are converted by and to the advancement of the gospel. In this way, they do not become members of or appendage to the “the Body,” but rather themselves become physical embodiments of the gospel. It is my conjecture that some embodiments will look more alike than others, in which case communal embodiments may well emerge — but at other times, their interests may very well appear opposed. (Is it possible, one wonders, that they might even truly be opposed or contradictory?) In either case, this is where my thought took me, and where it remains, and where I leave it here, in a world of multiple embodiments of the gospel, would they not (these embodiments) then be subject to the same physical principles as any other body: that of emergence, evolutionary organization & adaptation, decay & dissolution, etc.?