Wednesday, July 26, 2017

4GW and the Church

Have you read anything about 4GW? It’s an interesting study.

4GW is short for Fourth-Generation Warfare, a term first used in 1989 by a team of U.S. military analysts to describe conflict characterized, as Infogalactic puts it, by a “blurring of the lines between war and politics, combatants and civilians”.

In simplest terms, a 4G war is any conflict in which one of the actors is not a state but a sub-population of some sort, ethnic or otherwise. 4GW’s goals are usually complex and long term, and may be achieved through guerrilla tactics, terrorism, psy-ops, economic pressure, media manipulation and/or other non-traditional means.

A nation state in conflict with an enemy using 4GW tactics may have superior firepower, tech, numbers, communications, equipment and funding, but it has precious few stationary targets against which to employ them. 4GW forces are highly decentralized, to all outward appearances leaderless, extremely mobile and often indistinguishable from the general population. They pursue a general overarching aim rather than specific tactical assignments, and when thwarted will switch targets and methods on a dime. They are also usually made up of highly motivated individuals, which cannot always be said of traditional forces.

The Effectiveness of 4GW

As to the effectiveness of 4G warfare, back in 2004 William S. Lind quoted the minutes of the 1989 analytics team on the subject of effective leadership:
“Osama bin Ladin [sic], though reportedly very wealthy, lives in a cave. Yes, it is for security but it is also leadership by example. It may make it harder to separate (physically or psychologically) the 4GW leaders from their troops. It also makes it harder to discredit those leaders with their followers … This contrasts dramatically with the BNW [Battalion Nuclear Warfare] elites who are physically and psychologically separated (by a huge gap) from their followers (even the generals in most conventional armies are to a great extent separated from their men) … The BNW elites are in many respects occupying the moral low ground but don’t know it.”
Lind follows this quote with his own summary of the dangers of facing an enemy employing 4GW tactics:
“None of this is new. It is only new to state armed forces that were designed to fight other state armed forces. The fact that no state military has recently succeeded in defeating a non-state enemy reminds us that Clio has a sense of humor: history also teaches us that not all problems have solutions.”
Catch that? “No state military has recently succeeded in defeating a non-state enemy.”

It’s hard to miss the obvious: compared to raising and maintaining a colossal conquering force, 4GW operations are relatively inexpensive and, historically, tremendously effective.

And … Here Comes the Curveball

So let me just throw you a curve here. Despite appearances, this post is not intended as a military primer. I’m interested in how closely the behavior of successful 4GW cell groups parallels our churches. I definitely don’t mean in how our churches and denominations are behaving currently. I mean to consider how the Head of the Church has designed them to optimally operate, given how they operated successfully in the first century.

Now, the enemy of God’s people is, of course, not some mere nation state, but the entire World Order, the ethos of Satan, the “god of this world”.

My current working theory is that the Church is effective in her mission when she operates in 4GW mode, and notably less effective when she attempts to engage the World institution-against-institution.

You see, it seems distinctly possible to me that the Lord built his churches to function most optimally in something not wildly dissimilar to 4GW mode.

A Little Comparative Analysis

Let’s assess:
  • Opposed to the current world order? Check. (“You are not of the world … the world hates you.”)
  • Distributed amongst the general population? Check. (“Your conduct among the Gentiles …”)
  • Goals complex and long term? Check. (Couldn’t be much longer-term, really.)
  • Highly decentralized? After the first couple of years, definitely. (See the book of Acts.)
  • Extremely mobile? Check. (You find us all over the planet.)
  • A general overarching aim rather than specific tactical aims? Check. (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”)
  • To all outward appearances, leaderless? Check. (Who looks for the men in charge of a military operation engaged in menial service?)
  • Using non-traditional means of warfare? Check. (“The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”)
  • Highly motivated individuals? Let’s hope. If we can’t get excited about heralding the kingdom of God and the glory of Christ, what CAN we get excited about?
The God of This World Takes Aim

Now — very, very hypothetically — let’s say you’re the “god of this world”, and you’re concerned about some effective pushback against your dominion from small groups of widely-distributed and motivated insurgents. What would you do to counter them?

I know what I would do:
  • I’d do my best to emphasize their responsibility to the people around them in the here-and-now, rather than to that eternal-kingdom-thingy that seems to cause so much trouble.
  • I’d encourage them to organize and mobilize visibly and en masse, where I have the edge in numbers and weapons, and where they make obvious targets for some of my less-than-stellar allies, who need all the help they can get. Decentralization is a pain. Catholics have surely GOT to make easier targets than thousands of tiny non-denominational cell groups. Hey, this shouldn’t be so hard: Christians seem to have a near-pathological need to institutionalize.
  • I’d try to get them to focus their attention on specific and inflammatory points of enemy attack so that they lose touch with their overarching mandate. Gay marriage might work. At all costs, I’d try to discourage them from making disciples. That’s been a disaster for the “god of this world”.
  • I’d encourage them to make much of their leaders and point them out to my troops so we could target them more effectively. It’s so much easier to lop off heads that stick up above the crowd, not to mention that people who are regularly flattered by their followers become self-occupied and correspondingly less dangerous to the status quo.
  • I’d try and encourage them to embrace our tactics and strategies, not because all of them are wicked in and of themselves, but because when Christians have doubts about what they are doing, they quickly become less effective at it.
  • I’d attack the imminence of the coming kingdom. Christians who think the return of their Lord can’t possibly happen in their lifetime are likely to leave some gas in the tank rather than living all-out for Christ.
A Relevant Question or Two

Does any of this tactical stuff sound remotely plausible to you? I know it does to me.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves whether the Church is better off standing visibly united, toe-to-toe and trench-to-trench with the enemy (assuming that could ever be accomplished in the first place), or whether it’s just possible our little groups of believers were actually intended to engage in a more effective and untraditional style of combat.


  1. Our children nowadays love, among other things, to play X-box or other similar diversions and throughout history children have loved such strategic activities. Because they are our children we would not let this kind of thing go overboard and become too serious and perhaps unhealthy and harmful. So, we are God's children then why in the world would our father not stop an activity when it gets to the point that you describe? I guess just as our children become adults and we no longer have control over their behavior so it is with God and us. Any attack is therefore always directed at individuals and not institutions since they are only constructs by individuals. Since individual integrity and morality is forever the target having diverse institutions is therefore no guarantee for better defense or survival.

    1. One of the points I was making in the post is that the church as we see it in the New Testament is not an institution at all. It is we who have since made it institutional, not God.