Avengers: Endgame broke the box office these last couple weeks, becoming one of the highest grossing films of all time. Given its massive popularity, I felt the need to write this review. However, I am going to address this movie differently than I have reviewed the other Marvel movies.
I am partly doing this because there is not much new to report. The movie was about what you would expect from a Marvel movie. The film had great acting (with the exception of the ever terrible Brie Larson), comedic relief, incredible CGI, and an entertaining plot, all without much else in which to sink your teeth. Thankfully, this film was not as blatantly anti-Christian and political as others have been (although there was some of that in it). In many ways, to get a more detailed review, see any of my other Marvel reviews. The shoe generally fits.
All in all, it is a wildly entertaining film which I enjoyed, but I maintain a strong thankfulness that I grew up with the Lord of the Rings trilogies rather than the Marvel cinematic universe.
That said, what this movie perhaps emphasized better than most movies I have recently seen, and what I would like to discuss at length here, can be boiled down to the word camaraderie. The team/family element is the cornerstone of a movie like this. What makes these movies so emotionally stimulating is seeing these many superheros stand shoulder to shoulder, fighting enemies together.
With that, these superheros are very diverse in regards to their powers. Ironman brings something much different to the table than the Hulk, who is nothing like Thor, who is nothing like Captain America, etc. The movie’s strength is how it brought a diverse group of individuals together with a powerful bond to fight evil side by side, while contributing to the fight in different ways.
And in all the drama and emotion of watching beloved and diverse superheros stand bold against powerful foes, I could not help but notice these same human emotions are plucked when I reflect upon becoming a member of a local church.
Church Members are Superheros
This is not a desperate attempt at making Endgame a “Christian” movie. Please do not read me trying to do that. I am not saying the writers of this film were trying to make an allegorical story to the local church. I am not trying to find the Christian archetype in the film. All I am saying is the universal human emotions these movies play on demonstrate to me how profoundly beautiful the local church is.
Basically, I am saying that all members of believing local churches are superheros.
Allow me to break this down into the two aforementioned parts: the value of the collective and the value of the diversity of gifts within the collective.
The Value of the Collective
Near the end of Endgame, Captain America stood down the forces of evil standing bruised, exhausted, and alone. His heroism was epic and it was awesome. However, the theater did not erupt in applause until behind him began appearing all of his once fallen teammates. When his brothers and sisters joined him in the fight is when the movie got beautiful. None of the heroism was lost, but there was something special in the family, the collective. It was better than the individual.
Christians are not supposed to be bruised, exhausted, and alone. We are meant to be part of a family.
What this movie made me realize is that us is a better word than me. There is something so much more powerful in we than in me. There is beauty in valuing the collective above my individual needs.
All of these superheros have meaningful individual stories. However, what makes the Avengers so remarkable to global audiences is the chance to see these individuals unify as a group, a collective, a family.
My fear is that modern evangelicalism has become too individualistic. The visible church in America is not enough focused on the collective, and this manifests in how many churches lack meaningful membership. We hate “religion” so much that we have tried to turn Christianity into merely a personal relationship. While it certainly is not less than that, it is just as certainly more than that. Christianity is lived out in churches, Christians joined together as a body.
In his introductory chapter “Why Polity?” found in the book Baptist Foundations, Jonathan Leeman comments on evangelicalism’s anti-authoritarian/pro-individualistic tendencies (which he rightly recognizes as being a drift caught from the secular milieu).
Contemporary spirituality focuses on individual expression and self-actualization. We read books and attend conferences that tell us to listen to God’s voice. Pursue the plans He has for us. Discover our unique gifts. Journal our story. Practice God’s presence in the quiet of conscience. Experience Him. And take a step into the unknown for His sake. The question that drives us is not, “What responsibilities and obligations do I have to the family of God?”, but “How can I be everything God intends for me to be?” (12)
He then rightly goes on to say that,
Childishness is individualistic. It is indifferent to the needs of the body and pursues its own desires. Maturity is body minded. It seeks to serve and recognizes its dependence on the whole (19).
One can be a Christian apart from a local church. But the consistent emphasis and prescription of the New Testament is that Christians submit to local churches. They become part of the collective. They become Avengers, if you will. The collective, standing shoulder to shoulder, storming the gates of hell together is what makes movies better, and it makes the Christian life better, too. God designed us to be in submission to a local church, standing side by side, taking our world by storm.
The Value of the Diversity of Gifts
Another striking feature of the Marvel universe Avengers project is that while they do fight side by side as a team, they are very different superheros. They have different stories, different powers, different personalities, and different skill sets. This makes the movie much more entertaining. One can tell the concept of diversity is inherently beautiful in the fact that their is much less diversity among the enemy army. Thanos’ army is largely comprised of clones. His army lacks diversity.
This too reminds me of the beauty of the local church, as it is exactly Paul’s message to the local church in Corinth,
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).
Each local church is one unified body, but the Spirit gives different gifts to each member, each gift being vital. Sure, some gifts are “flashier” than others. The Hulk turns into a raged, muscular giant. Thor controls lightning while throwing a magic hammer around. Other gifts are less flashy. Falcon shoots guns while Hawkeye shoots a bow. But all are necessary in the fight and in the health of the body.
In the Marvel movies, it is awe-inspiring to see the different superheros use their unique gifts to contribute to the team and to the mission. This is the process of the local church. The Spirit chooses what gift to give to each member, and each member is accountable to use his or her
superpower gift for the common good. Like the Avengers, the local church is one unified body, consisting of diversely gifted members, each one contributing to the building up of the collective.
What makes the Marvel movies so entertaining is seeing diverse superheroes use their skill sets as part of a powerful collective group which is more important and more captivating than the individuals. And this incidentally ends up being a great analogy for the local church.
So, what I am saying is that we have something better than real life superheros and a real life Avengers team. We have the people of God who covenant together in a corporate body. So go to church.
More than that, join your church, become a member, fulfill your community duties. Begin to think more about the health and maturity of the church, not just yourself. Stand shoulder to shoulder with your brothers and sisters in spiritual warfare.
The local church is the means the Lord uses to conquer (Matthew 16:18). It is a powerful institution with a grand mission (Matthew 28:18-20). Get in the fight, submit to your leaders, become part of a body commissioned to bind and loose, proclaim the truth, make disciples, baptize believers, and win the world.