X-Men and the Ekklesia

June 16th, 2011

In this summer’s slew of blockbuster comic-book movies, some superheroes (Thor, Captain America) operate as solo acts, while others work as a team. X-Men: First Class (opened June 3, rated PG-13) shows how Marvel Comics’ mutants—individuals who manifest astonishing superpowers thanks to evolutionary quirks in their DNA—first teamed up.

“A New Species Is Being Born”

Set in the early 1960’s, First Class follows two brilliant mutants, telepath Charles Xavier and magnetism-manipulating Erik Lehnsherr, as they gather a group of young people who have been blessed or cursed (depending upon their perspective) with such uncanny abilities as super-strength and -agility; flight and “sonic screams”; control of destructive “cosmic energy”; even the power to change their shape and appearance. At a castle-like mansion euphemistically named “Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters,” the mutants learn to control their abilities and to work together. They take on new names and new purpose. As Xavier tells them, “Here, you have the chance to become part of something much bigger than yourself.”

Xavier and Lehnsherr agree that mutants represent the birth of a new species but disagree about how that species should relate to the rest of humanity. Xavier presses for peaceful coexistence, while Lehnsherr, believing mutants to be not simply different but superior, presses for confrontation. In the X-Men future, this philosophical difference leads Xavier to become “Professor X,” who continues to train and teach his “X-Men,” and Lehnsherr to become “Magneto,” the team’s archnemesis. For most of First Class, however, the mutants remain united, fighting to save the world from nuclear disaster during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Mutant Church?

When writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby created the X-Men in 1963, they didn’t intend for “Marvel’s merry mutants” to serve as a metaphor for Christians. The X-Men mythos, however, offers compelling similarities and differences to what we believe about what it means to be the church.

Like the students called to Xavier’s School, we are called together into a new community. The word church in the New Testament’s original Greek is ekklesia; it means, “gathering of those summoned.” Long ago God summoned one family, that of Abraham and Sarah, to be God’s “treasured possession out of all the peoples” (Exodus 19:5); now, in Jesus Christ, God increases the size of the chosen people, calling all to become “members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). The Bible doesn’t exactly identify the church as a “new species,” and it certainly never suggests that Christians are on their own merit superior to anyone else. But we do read that Christians are “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). John Wesley explained that Christians have “new life, new senses, new faculties, new affections, new appetites, new ideas and conceptions . . . [They live], as it were, in a new world.”

But even as we enter this new world, we never forget or even fully leave behind the old. Just as Xavier wants his students to work for the good of all people, Jesus teaches that God calls the church not only to salvation but also to service. “You did not choose me,” he tells us, “but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit” (John 15:16). We receive special, spiritual gifts, not via genetic mutation, but through the power of the Holy Spirit; and we use these gifts to serve one another and the world. We are indeed “part of something much bigger” than ourselves—nothing less, in fact, than “the transformation of the world.”

Our individual faith and practice as Christians is important. Only together, however, do we fully realize our God-given potential. As members of the church— God’s “team”— we find and fulfill our mission.


This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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