The Christian Community in Society

“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever” opined the famous French general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. American society today seems to have taken him at his word. We are told to dream big, take chances, and make our mark on the world. To be remembered in posterity, “write something worth reading or do something worth writing about” wrote Benjamin Franklin. We are even told to misbehave, “Well behaved women seldom make history (Laurel Thatcher Urich).” It is as if 100,000 of us were standing in a stadium screaming to be heard, and spending our lives trying to be distinctive enough to feel important.

Sometimes the Christian community looks little different. In his book You Are Special, Max Lucado writes of a village of little wooden people called wemmicks who spend their days putting stars or dots on each other, stars for doing something that they like and dots for doing something that they don’t. The best had special awards (a sequel, Best of All) and perhaps even monuments to be widely known and remembered. These fictional children’s stories describe an all too common trap into which even followers of Jesus fall.

In the time of Paul, the Christian community was a small part of a large and powerful pagan Roman society. Some Christians were prominent, but to be a Christian sometimes meant to be persecuted – a big downside to seeking the limelight. Paul himself did not seek personal glory. The miraculous powers that he sometimes wielded were not his own, and he could not even use them to heal himself (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). He traveled from community to community preaching Christ resurrected in the synagogues and later in the churches. He taught in prominent places such as the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34) in Athens, but anyone with something to say could enter the discussion. Paul never wrote about how he wished to be remembered, and it is not clear that he expected to find his name in history.

Paul did, however, have an expectation for how Christians would live in society as individuals and as a group.

  1. Christians would live a quiet life, mind their own business, and work with their own hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
  2. The believing community would require work from their members, and those who were able to work but refused to do so would not be supported by the community (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
  3. Males and females would treat each other well, as would people of different ages (1 Timothy 5:1-3).
  4. Families would consist of multiple generations caring for each other in every way they could (1 Timothy 5:8).
  5. Younger men and women would marry, have children, and raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4).
  6. Everyone would contribute what efforts they could to the group. Even older and infirm widows would serve the community (1 Timothy 5:10). There was no period of life in which a person did not work.
  7. Families would take care of their aged and infirm members first, only receiving help from the community when needed (1 Timothy 5:16).
  8. The community of Christians would honor their Christian leaders. This includes paying them a fair wage (1 Corinthians 9:9-14).      
  9. Believers would pray for their leaders and government, and that they live quiet and peaceful lives in the greater society (1 Timothy 2:1-3). We are not to speak evil of others (Titus 3:1-2).
  10. Men and women would have different roles in the church (1 Timothy 2:8-15). Different age groups would also have differing, but equally important, roles and tasks (Titus 2:1-7).
  11. Christian leaders and their wives would be subject to high standards of conduct and appearance (1 Timothy 3:1-13).
  12. Every follower of Jesus would be godly, contented, and not greedy (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
  13. As individuals and as a community, Christians would constantly live in such a way as to avoid just accusation from those outside the community (Titus 2:8). The Apostle Peter agrees with Paul in that we glory God in our lives so that outsiders may be saved (1 Peter 2:12-15).

Paul says far more about the Christian community, and about the structure and government of the local church, in his letters. He says little about how people outside the church should behave or should live in their communities. The Apostle’s instructions to Christian men and women in different contexts (families and churches) do not necessarily apply to those outside the family of believers. Also, Paul says nothing about the structure of government outside the church. Paul was not a political activist.

Much of Paul’s vision for the early church is anathema to non-believers, and even some believers, today. Some of it, such people argue, was specific to that place and does not apply in the 21st century. These arguments are beyond the scope of this article. They are also beside the point.


Napoleon believed that glory was fleeting, but obscurity was forever. He lived his life, killing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying nations to gain earthly, mortal glory. The Emperor of France spent his years doing what logically followed his beliefs. If we believe as Napoleon as a society and as a church, we will live like Napoleon.

Paul knew that while mortal glory is fleeting, immortal glory lasts forever. He lived his life not to be in some history book, but to be raised from death with Christ (Philippians 3:8-10). Paul killed no one and destroyed nothing. After coming to know Christ, he gave each moment of his earthly sojourn so that everyone might know Him.  If we believe like Paul as a society, and especially as a church, we will live like Paul.

The War of 1812

Reenactors and Living Historians in 2013 reveled in the 150th anniversary of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg, some of the most monumental battles of the American Civil War. Thousands of participants, tens of thousands of spectators, and merchants of all kinds have gathered to relive these events that shaped our nation and its people forever.

2013 and 2014 have seen anniversaries of other battles from an earlier war which has also shaped American History, the War of 1812. Though overshadowed by its later, longer and bloodier cousin, the War of 1812 was the first major military test of new United States, the only conflict in our history in which a foreign power invaded our states, and the only one in which our capital, Washington DC, was captured. The War of 1812 is famous for Fort McHenry’s valiant stand against the British fleet, the setting of Francis Scott Key’s Star Spangled Banner, and for Andrew Jackson’s (Old Hickory) decimation of the British forces at the Battle of New Orleans.

The main show on the world stage in 1812 was the struggle between the French and the Allied Powers in Europe. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had brought continental Europe to its knees and in 1812 invaded Russia. Britain was winning its guerilla campaign against French forces in Spain and its navy ruled the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, a harbinger of the worldwide English supremacy in the decades to come.

America in 1812 was an insignificant power. Though its land area was 1.7 million square miles (France 250,000 square miles, UK 90,000 square miles) its population was only 7.2 million (France 38 million, UK 15 million). America’s army in 1812 had 7,000 soldiers, compared with over 500,000 in France and over 250,000 in the United Kingdom. The United States was also far behind Great Britain in industrial output.

In 1807, Britain and France declared their intention to seize neutral ships entering or leaving the enemy’s ports. Because France was much weaker and had lost much of their naval force at Trafalgar in 1805, they had trouble acting on their threat. With its dominating blue water navy, Britain, though hard pressed against France on land, took naval action against the United States to strengthen their navy against Napoleon.

The Royal Navy had 175 ships of the lines and 600 total ships arrayed against France, requiring 140,000 sailors to man them. Since it could not meet the requirements at home, Britain captured American seamen and forced them to join the Royal Navy. The United Kingdom supported Indian raids on American settlers, wreaking havoc on the frontier. Finally the British blocked US trade with France, causing economic hardship on both sides of the Atlantic. President Thomas Jefferson refused to fight but tried diplomatic and economic means to stop these practices, but they failed. In June 1812 President James Madison presented Congress with a list of grievances and war hawks like Henry Clay led as Congress declared war.

As a result of the war against Napoleon, Canada had only about 6000 British regulars. Hoping to exploit that vulnerability, about 3000 US troops under General William Hull invaded Canada across the Detroit River in July 1812. By August the poorly trained and equipped force had surrendered to smaller British forces and much of the Michigan Territory was lost. The American fortress at Detroit fell to a smaller combined British and Shawnee Indian army. The US invaded Canada in October and again failed.

In one of the most famous naval engagements of the war, the frigate USS Constitution, one of only 20 ships in the entire US Navy, eluded five British pursuers in July 1812. Armed with 44-55 guns compared to the 36-40 guns in European frigates, in August the Constitution defeated the HMS Guerriere. The London Times reported “Never before in the history of the world did an English frigate strike to an American.” In December the Constitution destroyed the British frigate HMS Java in a three hour battle. Finally in 1815 she captured the HMS Cyane and the HMS Levant.

Napoleon’s defeat and withdrawal from Russia in December 1812 and Britain’s victories in the Iberian campaign in early 1813 resulted in more British forces being available for operations in North America. A British naval advance was checked by weaker forces under Commodore Oliver Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie in September. Never before had an American fleet defeated an entire British squadron. In October, a combination British and Native American force was beaten by General William Henry Harrison’s forces at the Battle of the Thames. Critical to the war, the Chief Tecumseh, leader of the native confederation, was killed, and unified native support to the British was gone.

After defeat in the Battle of Leipzig (October 1813) and a long retreat into France, Napoleon abdicated on 6 April 1814. This allowed the British to bring large ground and naval forces against the Americans. British General George Prevost invaded New York in August but Master Commandant Thomas MacDonough’s naval victory at Lake Champlain and Brigadier General Alexander Macomb’s land victory against Prevost at the Battle of Plattsburgh in September ended their northern campaign.

The War of 1812 involved action as far away as the Pacific Ocean. In October 1812, Captain David Porter, accompanied by the young midshipman David Farragut, took his ship, the USS Essex, to the South Atlantic to raid British merchant vessels. In December they captured a British mail ship and took $55,000 in gold. Through 1813 the Essex captured 12 British whalers with oil worth over $2 million. In March 1814 while trying to escape from Valparaiso in Chile, British warships ambushed the Essex. After a stiff battle, Porter surrendered. His ship a floating wreck, the British allowed him to sail back to the US.

Meanwhile the Royal Navy was blockading the US seacoast, raiding and looting villages at will. Rear Admiral George Cockburn was in command of the Chesapeake Bay fleet and landed Royal Marines on the eastern shores of the Patuxent River. They defeated Maryland militia at “The Plains” and moved north and west, routing US forces at Bladensburg and burning Washington DC in August 1814. A similar attempt to move up the Chesapeake to conquer Baltimore was foiled by a British army defeat at North Point and a British naval failure against Fort McHenry in September. This battle occasioned Francis Scott Key’s writing of the “Star Spangled Banner”, which became the US national anthem in 1931.

With neither side able to achieve a decisive victory, Britain and the United States signed a peace treaty at Ghent, Belgium, in December 1814. Nonetheless one great battle remained. Unaware of the peace treaty, a British force of 8000 under General Edward Pakenham attacked General Andrew Jackson’s hodgepodge force of 1000 regulars and 3000 auxiliaries outside the city of New Orleans on 8 January 1815. The British suffered nearly 25% casualties while the Americans lost 81.

The War of 1812, sometimes known as the Second American Revolution, proved to the world that America could maintain her independence. It also proved that America could stand as an independent power alongside the great states of the time. While historians and reenactors enjoy the cataclysmic battles of the Civil War, they would do well to remember the War of 1812. Both have much to savor.

The Dance of the Headquarters

In Iraq in late 2003 a draft recommendation came to the Task Force 1st Armored Division Headquarters from our higher headquarters, the Combined Joint Task Force Headquarters. It referenced tuberculosis in Iraq and proposed aggressive use of preventive measures against the disease, citing huge numbers of new cases per year. As the Task Force Preventive Medicine Officer and Deputy Division Surgeon, I was responsible to review all public health and other medical recommendations coming from outside. The math didn’t seem right and I went to the World Health Organization website to check the incidence and prevalence of tuberculosis in Iraq. Suddenly I realized that whoever had made the recommendation had badly overestimated the incidence of new tuberculosis cases. To our medical team it was just another example of trouble from our higher headquarters.

A few months later and still in Baghdad, our team visited the medical staff of one of our subordinate brigades. We asked questions of patients seen, quality of care, training plans, and changes in the rate of diseases we were seeing. Some of the leadership asked why we needed all of that information, and lamented that they were spending time generating reports that they could have spent taking care of patients. My team did our best to explain that these data were worthwhile and useful, but they seemed unconvinced. After all, we were from higher headquarters.

The relationship between superior and subordinate headquarters has been troubled since war began. Lower commands believe that higher ones have no idea what they can do and what they are facing, and higher commands complain that lower ones neither know nor care about the strategic situation and how their unit contributes to the mission as a whole. Sometimes lower commands are right, as when Rommel and his Afrika Korps disobeyed orders from the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), the German high command. The OKW ordered Rommel to hold Libya, but he attacked and nearly swept the British out of Africa in 1942. Sometimes higher commands are right, as when Jeb Stuart led his cavalry on a pointless ride to the east of Meade’s army, leaving Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia without reconnaissance during the Gettysburg campaign in 1863.

Navy relations between lower and higher commands can be even frostier. Being alone on a ship hundreds of miles from the nearest friend, a captain and his crew have near complete autonomy, and near complete responsibility, for themselves and their mission. Even the admiral commanding the fleet has to ask permission to board a subordinate’s ship. A friend of mine once described the relationship by service, saying that Army units view higher headquarters with indifference, and Navy units view higher headquarters with indignation.

Against this backdrop, some on my staff have asked me to discuss the relationship between higher and lower headquarters. This paper intends to address this question.

Higher headquarters provide mission guidance, while lower headquarters direct units for mission accomplishment

Probably the single most important thing that higher headquarters do for their subordinates is to provide and clarify their mission – what they are supposed to do. The highest headquarters in the United States, the National Command Authority, sets the mission in its broadest terms in the National Security Strategy (NSS). The next level, the Department of Defense, interprets the NSS in military terms and so forms the National Military Strategy (NMS). Each service then produces subsidiary documents to interpret the NMS for their service. Subordinate commands, from geographic commands (i.e. European Command) to functional commands (i.e. Medical Command) do the same at their level and in their context. Eventually every rifle company, every frigate, every air squadron, and every hospital has a mission statement and strategy which describes how they will do their part to accomplish the NSS.

Each headquarters must not only identify its mission and strategy but must communicate it to headquarters above and below them. This task is vital and endless as the continual press of events makes it difficult for even the most dedicated unit to maintain its focus on the mission.

Higher headquarters provide resources, while lower headquarters direct the use of those resources to accomplish the mission.

It is impossible to accomplish tasks without resources, and higher headquarters are responsible to give lower ones whatever they need to fulfill their mission. This requires that they identify clearly what they want their subordinates to do and listen carefully when their subordinates describe what they need to do it. They must then provide their own analysis, discuss the results with the ones who will be executing the mission, and meet the need. Once the initial need is met, commands at all levels must keep watch over operations to ensure that resupply and refitting are done regularly and as needed. The mission is paramount.

No command ever felt like it had enough resources, and higher and lower commands have both made mistakes in this area as well. McClellan always overestimated the strength of Lee’s forces and chronically asked for reinforcements for the Army of the Potomac. As a result, he lost to a numerically inferior army in the Peninsular Campaign and failed to end the Civil War in 1862. On the other hand, the German Army Group South was tasked to provide food, fuel and ammunition to Von Paulus’ beleaguered and starving 6th Army at Stalingrad. What few aircraft got through the gauntlet of Soviet air and antiaircraft never had enough to sustain the troops. One shipment contained condoms instead of food or ammunition.

Higher headquarters provide information from equivalent and higher levels, and lower headquarters provide information from the front line.

Subordinate headquarters need to know more than just the mission. Most do not have intelligence shops and so rely on their higher headquarters to keep them abreast of what is going on around them. We may never know if Admiral Husband E Kimmel and General Walter C. Short could have anticipated the attack on Pearl Harbor had they been given all of the information that the US Government knew regarding an imminent Japanese attack. In 1999, Senator William V. Roth (R-DE) wrote that “they were denied vital intelligence that was available in Washington.” Whether this would have made a difference of not, the fact remains that one of the most important tasks of higher headquarters is to keep lower headquarters informed of all information they need to do their duty.
The converse is also true. During the German assault on Crete (20-31 May 1941), the British high command provided accurate and timely information to MG Bernard Freyberg’s Greek and British troops due to the decoded Enigma intercepts. However, commanders on the ground misunderstood and misused some of the information, allowing the Germans to capture the Maleme airfield, reinforce their position, and capture the island. In this case, poor communication between command elements played a decisive role.

Higher headquarters provide top cover, representing subordinate units at higher levels and shielding them from inappropriate tasks from outsiders.

Sir Douglas Haig (1861-1928) was the supreme commander of British forces in France during most of World War I. Millions of men had become casualties and the war had deadlocked in trench warfare since October of 1914. Despite the experience of the German and French at Verdun, who had suffered 700,000 dead, wounded and missing while gaining nothing in the battle of Verdun (February to December 1916), Haig planned and launched a major British offensive at the Somme in July. The British suffered 60,000 casualties on the first day, and over 600,000 by the time the battle ended in November 1916. Lieutenant Bernard Montgomery, who later became the senior British commander in World War II, wrote:

“The higher staffs were out of touch with the regimental officers and with the troops. The former lived in comfort, which became greater as the distance of their headquarters behind the lines increased. There was no harm in this provided there was touch and sympathy between the staff and the troops. This was often lacking. The frightful casualties appalled me. There is a story of Sir Douglas Haig’s Chief of Staff who was to return to England after the heavy fighting during the winter of 1917-18 on the Passchendaele front. Before leaving he said he would like to visit the Passchendaele Ridge and see the country. When he saw the mud and the ghastly conditions under which the soldiers had fought and died.” Apparently he was upset by what he saw and said: “Do you mean to tell me that the soldiers had to fight under such conditions? Why was I never told about this before?”

Haig was no different than most other European commanders at the time, and he ignored some of his subordinates when they told him before the bloodletting that the offensive was a bad idea. These commanders, who knew the obstacles far better than Haig did, tried to save their units from disaster, performing this function of higher headquarters, but were unable.

As a senior officer in the Joint Task Force National Capital Medicine (JTF Cap Med), I am routinely required to prioritize tasks that outside commands and other groups try to assign to our subordinate hospitals, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. Sometimes I am successful in diverting unnecessary tasks, or necessary tasks that should actually be done by others, away from these already overworked units. Other times I am not. Either way, it is our duty in the higher headquarters to enable our subordinates to do their mission, and that sometimes means deflecting distracters to that mission.

Higher headquarters provide expertise

The way to become a commander or a staff officer at a higher headquarters is to succeed at a lower one, since those who are unsuccessful are not given greater responsibility. Therefore people serving in higher headquarters units should, and usually do, have training, skills and experience to assist people in subordinate units to accomplish key tasks. Higher headquarters does not do the work of lower headquarters, but helps them do it themselves.

Higher headquarters coordinate efforts between lower level units

It was 16 June 1815, and Napoleon had just returned to France from exile in Elba and formed a new army to fight the invading Allies. He marched into Belgium and was faced with the English Army to the north and the Prussians marching to attack from the east. Napoleon had no chance of beating the combined Allied Armies, but he could win if he could destroy them one at a time. An allied Dutch-Belgian infantry division had occupied the strategic crossroads at the Belgian hamlet of Quatre-Bras, and Napoleon ordered Marshal Ney, a French wing commander, to take it. Another wing commander, Marshall Grouchy, was told to fight the Prussians in the east.

Over the course of the day, Marshall Ney wasted six precious hours and failed to take Quatre-Bras, and his I Corps commander D’Erlon marched his troops repeatedly between Quatre-Bras and the Prussians at Ligny in the east, failing to influence either engagement. Napoleon and Grouchy were more successful against Blucher at Ligny, but failed to win a decisive victory. The failure of French arms on 16 June, largely due to a failure of communication and coordination, ended in the French disaster and the destruction of their empire at Waterloo, only two days hence.

Whether fighting historic battles, coordinating training exercises or taking care of patients, higher headquarters coordinate the activities of their subordinate commands. Last summer Walter Reed National Military Medical Center needed surgeons, operative nurses and other surgical staff to help them care for the crush of combat casualties arriving from Afghanistan. Other military hospitals in the national capital region (NCR), coordinated by the JTF Cap Med contributed those professionals, and the wounded received the care that they needed.


It is often difficult for young officers and soldiers to know how to relate to headquarters, higher and lower. Misunderstandings abound, and it is easy for misunderstandings to develop into hostility. Mission failure is an all-too-common result.