The Oak Beams of New College, Oxford
The anthropologist, social scientist, and linguist Gregory Bateson (1904-1980) is said to have told a story of how a college planned for future inevitabilities. There are most likely different versions of it floating around. The date of the founding of New College, Oxford, goes back to 1379. Over the years, buildings were added to the grounds to accommodate students. The following was published in The Next Whole Earth Catalog in 1981:
It has, like other colleges, a great dining hall with big oak beams across the top, yes? These might be eighteen inches square, twenty feet long. Some five to ten years ago, so I am told, some busy entomologist [a person who studies insects] went up into the roof of the dining hall with a penknife and poked at the beams and found that they were full of beetles. This was reported to the College Council, who met in some dismay, because where would they get beams of that caliber nowadays?
One of the Junior Fellows stuck his neck out and suggested that there might be on the College lands some oak. These colleges are endowed with pieces of land scattered across the country. So they called the College Forester, who of course had not been near the college itself for some years, and asked him about the oaks.
And he pulled his forelock and said, “Well sirs, we was wonderin’ when you’d be askin’.”
Upon further inquiry it was discovered that when the College was founded, a grove of oaks had been planted to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetly, because oak beams always become beetly [infested with beetles] in the end. This plan had been passed down from one Forester to the next for four hundred years. “You don’t cut them oaks. Them’s for the College Hall.”
A nice story. That’s a way to run a culture.
The Cornerstone at the Crossroads
After World War II Europe was carved up and divided among the victors. After World War II, Europe was carved up among the victors. “The Soviet Union had already annexed several occupied countries as (or into) Soviet Socialist Republics, and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe were occupied and converted into Soviet-controlled satellite states, such as the People’s Republic of Poland, the People’s Republic of Hungary, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the People’s Republic of Romania, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, the People’s Republic of Albania, and later East Germany from the Soviet zone of German occupation. Eventually, the United States and the United Kingdom made concessions in recognizing the communist-dominated regions by sacrificing the substance of the Yalta Declaration although it remained in form.”
With the fall of the Soviet Union, these nations have struggled to rebuild their nations. It’s been a long struggle. The following is from Romanian pastor Josef Tson under the title of “The Cornerstone at the Crossroads” that was published in the Wheaton Alumni (August/September) in 1991:
This is a historic time. It is in fact one of the great turning points in human history. I wonder if you here in peaceful America grasp the magnitude of the change we have experienced in Eastern Europe. Radical changes, however, are taking place not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the whole climate of the intellectual life of the world.
It shouldn’t be necessary to speak about the importance of understanding the times, but let me remind you of that great insight that we find in 1 Chronicles 12:32 in the description of the 200 men of the tribe of Issachar “who understood the times” and because of that understanding of history, “were able to tell Israel what to do.”
Let me illustrate the importance of understanding the times from my own experience. The communist disaster fell on my country [of Romania] when I was a teenager. For many years after that, my life was a battle for intellectual and spiritual survival under Marxist indoctrination and totalitarian and Christian terror. I struggled to understand the nature of that calamity, and the Lord gave me that understanding. In the forties, I wrote papers on the nature of the failure of communism. One of them, published under the title The Christian Manifesto landed me in six months of house arrest with harsh interrogations by the secret police. But for me the crucial moment came in 1977, when a friend of mine challenged me to set up an organization that would openly expose communism.
Here is what I told him: “Communism is an experiment that has failed. It wasn’t able to fulfill any of its many promises and nobody believes in it any more. Because of this, it will one day collapse on its own. Now, why should I fight something that is finished? I believe that our task is a different one. When communism collapses, somebody has to be there to rebuild society! I believe our job as Christian teachers is to train leaders so that they will be ready and capable to rebuild our society on a Christian basis.”
To my surprise, here is what my friend said to me: “Josef, you are wrong. Communism will triumph all over the world, because this is the movement of the Antichrist. And when the communists take over in the United States, they will have no restraining force left. They will then kill all the Christians. We have only one job to do: to alert the world and make ready to die.”
A few years later my friend was forced to leave Romania. He came to the U.S. and settled down. Then I was forced into exile, and I moved to the U.S. as well. Since then, my friend has not done anything for Romania. He simply waited for the final triumph of communism and the annihilation of Christianity.
On the other hand, when I came here in 1981, I started a training program for Christian leaders in Romania. We translated Christian textbooks and smuggled them into Romania. With our partners in the organization, The Biblical Education by Extension (BEE), we trained about 1200 people all over Romania. Today, those people who were trained in that underground operation are the leaders in churches, in evangelical denominations, and in key Christian ministries.
You see, the way you look to the future determines your planning and your actions. It is the way you understand the times that determines what you are going to do.
Can You Guess the Year?
Looking over the history of the 20th century we can see the effects of war and tyrannical ideologies overtaking peoples’ lives. World War II led to unheard of devastation. Battle deaths, battle wounded, and civilian casualties totaled nearly 100 million. “Worldwide casualty estimates vary widely in several sources. The number of civilian deaths in China alone might well be more than 50,000,000.” Many believed that the end of the world was near. It sure looked like it when two atomic weapons were dropped on Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Here is Hiroshima today:
There are many times in history when people thought there was no hope. The following is from Samuel Eliot Morison’s book Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus published in 1942.
“At the end of the year ________ most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. For over a century there had been no important advance in natural science, and registration in the universities dwindled as the instruction they offered became increasingly jejune [boring, undemanding] and lifeless. Institutions were decaying, well-meaning people were growing cynical or desperate, and many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through the study of the pagan past.
Islam was now expanding at the expense of Christendom…. The Ottoman Turks, after snuffing out all that remained of the Byzantine Empire, had overrun most of Greece, Albania and Serbia; presently they would be hammering at the gates of Vienna.”
Of course, the year was 1492.
The above examples are reminders that even out of literal ashes life can return. Christians have all the necessary equipment to make fundamental changes in our world, but too many refuse to act. The reason for this is three-fold (at least): First, Christians have been told that this world belongs to the devil and only heaven counts. Second, we’re living in the last days and Jesus is about to return to fix everything by removing His people from earth which will lead to even more devastation to followed by a thousand years of bliss, but even after that everything falls apart. Third, millions of Christians have been told that there is no mandate to fix anything.
If enough Christians believe and live in terms of these three unbiblical operating assumptions long enough, you will see a collapse of everything. Maybe a more faithful generation of believers will come to understand their role in God’s world. It doesn’t have to happen that way.
Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths
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