The 1st Church of the Avengers - An MCU Monday/RECLAMATION Crossover Event
The final installment of MCU Mondays is a bit of a crossover with the RECLAMATION blog series concerning the nature of the church in the 21st century. I spent four sessions talking through the film with my students and though the first two meetings were concerned with the nature of the supernatural and biblical appropriateness of speculative fiction the final two served as discussions about the nature of the church as aptly illustrated by the Avengers in their inaugural cinematic group-outing. Specifically the film showed the dysfunction that will beset a church not properly united in Christ (a la 1 Corinthians 1) and also the transformative power inherent in a community centered on the cross.
Once the audience has been sufficiently made aware of the villain (Loki), his intentions, and the non-anthropomorphic McGuffin (the tesseract), THE AVENGERS devotes a goodly portion of celluloid to the gathering of the team and then a display of their apparent dysfunction. Cap doesn’t like Stark. Stark thinks the existence of an uncontrollable rage-monster is a reality with which to be toyed. No one really knows Thor. Thor may or may not have a god-complex. And no one trusts Fury.
I semi-jokingly refer to this team-up as the 1st Church of the Avengers because, in so many ways, it resembles the chemistry of a lot of 21st century American churches. Awkward, forced, social interactions overseen by an authority to which few, if any, have anything resembling a personal relationship and mandated by a higher purpose that all agree is necessary but not all fully grasp. In other words, everyone knows they’re supposed to be on the heli-carrier (or a member of the church) but they may be foggy on the reasoning and the benefits.
What are going to accomplish as a group that we can’t do individually?
This question haunted the Avengers for much of the film and haunts many church members today. But not only does it haunt, it divides. So long as Cap, Iron Man, Thor, and company were content to let their individual preferences and priorities shape the team, they were a team in potential only. They were, as Banner/Hulk said, “a time bomb.” Likewise, so long as church members have the same mindset they will be a church in name only, but not in function. And I would submit that this is the reality in which many churches reside.
But, happily for the church and those opposed to living under alien rule, there is a solution for both.
Agent Phil Coulson serves as an unlikely Jesus figure in THE AVENGERS, at least he does for the intents of this article. It is his violent death that jolts the members of superhero team-up out of their individualist malaise and into true team unity. If Coulson doesn’t die, the Avengers don’t exist. Likewise, without the violent death (and subsequent resurrection) of Jesus Christ, there is no church. Paul makes clear in the opening chapter of 1 Corinthians that the church is nothing but a rag-tag collection of self-admitting losers without the binding and transformative power of Christ “and Him crucified.”
And that bit about it being “transformative” is fairly crucial.
It’s not enough to assemble a collection of the world’s finest (or, in the case of the church the world’s most extraordinarily average-to-awful) they have to be melded into a product whose value is greater than the sum of its parts. They have to be transformed from a collection of individuals into a community of team members. In THE AVENGERS we see this most clearly (maybe too clearly) in Iron Man’s willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of the greater good. The same guy that was criticized for his unwillingness to fall on the proverbial grenade for the sake of the team by the good captain earlier in the film proverbially falls on the nuclear bomb to save the city of New York in the film’s climactic moments.
Oh…spoiler warning on all that, by the way.
Maybe it’s all too obvious and too on-the-nose, but I found the journey of the Avengers over the course of the film to be wonderfully illustrative of so much of what church should be and look like (minus the super-powers, sadly and obviously). Being the church is about being part of the transformative unity of Christ crucified for us. It binds us together as a community and transforms us into new creatures far removed from who we were apart from him. And while we rarely get called on to stand in the gap between a major metropolis and an impending alien horde, we are called to stand in the gap on behalf of our cities, towns, and suburban home-owner’s association so that they might “see (our) good works and glorify (our) Father in heaven.”
Or, to paraphrase Tony Stark, “If we can’t save the earth you can be (oops) sure we’ll exalt the One who did.”
 He even comes back to life! Albeit, in a weird, fairly anti-climactic turn of events that I don’t fully understand.
 Yes, yes, I know that “World’s Finest” is a DC phrase. But did YOU know that before you scrolled down here?