Unity of Command

by Col Ren Vandesteeg, USAF (Ret.)

Do the military principles of war apply to Christian living? When I learned these principles in Air War College, I found all of them in the Bible. Later I applied them to Christian living.

The military definition of Unity of Command (UOC) is: "For every objective, one person is responsible for war-fighting decisions." 1

Our military has a Commander-In-Chief (CINC), the President of the United States. As CINC, he is ultimately responsible for war-fighting decisions. However, he does not personally make all war-fighting decisions. He delegates decision-making down through the chain of command; this is called centralized control with de-centralized execution.

The theory is that there is control at the top but freedom down the line at each echelon for individual commanders to make decisions.

This builds trust up and down the chain of command and produces freedom and flexibility throughout all of the force structures.

Let's apply this spiritually by looking at the Trinity and the Body of Christ.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus stated that all authority was given to Him. He also said in the Gospels that He always obeyed the Father--doing nothing on His own account.

In the next step down the chain of command, Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit, who would guide His followers in all truth. He would not speak on His own authority, but whatever He heard from Jesus He would speak (John 16:13).

Military officers know how this works. They may not always speak on their own authority, but more often speak the desires of those in authority over them.

When I was in military staff meetings there were often arguments and debates over how we should accomplish an objective; but in the end our commander made the decision.

Once the commander decided, the staff members put disagreements aside and worked together in unity to attain the objective that the commander prescribed. UOC implies obedience to the commander all the way up and down the chain of command.

The same unity of effort should be the showpiece of any local Body of Christ. In the military, the Body of Christ may be the local chapel community, believers in a unit, or believers going into battle together.

What brings them together as military members is that they are members of units under the ultimate command of the CINC. What brings them together spiritually is that they are all under the ultimate command of their spiritual CINC--Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul said, "Join with others in following my example" (Philippians 3:17) and "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:9). Spiritual UOC works when Christians look to their leaders and follow them as they follow Christ.

The military may have learned more regarding unity during the last twenty-five years than the church has. The expeditionary nature of today's military involves multiple deployments of units from all branches of the military working together.

For example the military member (let's say he's Air Force) belongs to a unit back home and is therefore under that unit commander, but he's TDY to a training unit (let's say Army) in preparation for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan where he'll be under the command of the deployment commander.

Who is his commander--the original unit commander, the training unit commander or the deployed area commander? He's under all three, but only one at a time when he's under each commander's authority.

UOC in action is an awesome testimony to our country's democracy. For example, while we participate in multiple deployments, our political system peacefully chooses another CINC.

There is no bloodshed, no military coup or insurrection. Rather we see Americans uniting in support of our country even in difficult times.

We live in changing and dangerous times. We see and experience economic woes and instability in our country and globally. We deploy continually because of political, economic, military and religious problems.

Our military is in the cross hairs of various religions and religious groups vying for power and control in their countries and regions of the world. Welcome to the world in which Adam forfeited his authority to Satan. It's a mess and seemingly getting worse.

In all this we serve as Christians, regardless of rank, position, unit, responsibility, race or gender, under the unified command of our spiritual CINC--Jesus Christ.

The authors Neil Anderson and Timothy Warner wrote, "A good soldier learns to follow orders, for his own sake as well as the sake of his fellow soldiers."2 As there is UOC in the military, spiritually there must also be UOC.

The military instills pride into its subordinate units, yet these units are never allowed to be so proud that they neglect higher loyalty to their headquarters and leaders.

We could think of the church as having subordinate units too. Some Christians may want to identify with Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, T.D. Jakes, Rick Warren, or others. Those subordinate leaders should never get the fierce loyalty and following that belongs only to Jesus Christ. Therefore, their adherents should always see unity in the church as a primary goal over their own distinctiveness. Jesus prayed that we would all be one (John 17:21).

One critical way believers live in unity is to pray for our leaders. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 the apostle Paul exhorts us to pray for those in authority over us. Through intercessory prayer for our leaders, believers unify with God and with each other against both military and spiritual forces.

Here's one last example to illustrate spiritual UOC. In a joint military environment, one commander commands bombers, tanks, and ships. One of those components is no better or worse than any other. They follow and trust the leadership of their one commander.

So, too, the church: believers must be loyal to Jesus as the one Commander of His Body. The Body of Christ has many different components, and we don't always recognize or understand each other's contributions.

We are not all the same, but each of us has an important contribution to our joint spiritual mission. As Christians demonstrate loyalty and obedience to Jesus, we unify our efforts.

We are one, even as He is one with the Father. How fulfilling it is to follow our CINC, and be a part of His spiritual force and mission! Military principles of war do apply to Christian living.

This article is condensed from the book Surface to Air Christianity written by Colonel (Retired) USAF Ren Vandesteeg and his wife, Carol.

1 Smith, Gregory P. www.businessknowhow.com. "Small Business Principles of War"

2 Anderson, Neil T. and Timothy M. Warner. The Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Warfare. (Ventura, California: Regal Books: 2000)

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