J. Wiley Adams
Newport, North Carolina
According to Webster, an heirloom is "any personal chattel, which descends to the heir with the inheritance; hence, any piece of personal property owned by a family for several generations." It takes only a casual glance at the religious world in general to observe that this definition has been extended to include religion. Hand-me-down religion is the order of the J. Wiley Adams day. The strange thing, however, is this: The Lord's religion is the oldest thing in existence (and it would be superfluous to add that it is the best because it is the only one), yet people today never seem to take that into consideration.
Many folks will drag out the family album, the family Bible with all its assortments of receipts, deeds, locks of hair, pressed flowers, etc. or point to some antique piece of furniture with great pride because they have been in the family for years. On the subject of religion many will point with equal pride to the fact that they have descended from a long line of Baptists, Methodists or Episcopalians as though there were something especially meritorious about that religion having been in the family for years. It is cherished in much the same way one would value an heirloom. The truth is that most heirlooms have no real value other than sentimental worth. Heirloom religion, likewise, has no real value. It is only a tradition and many who hold so tightly to traditional religion really do not know what that religion is. That is the reason many sectarian folks will not discuss their religion. They just do not know what it is they are supposed to believe. So they pass it off by saying, "Well, if it was good enough for my forefathers, it is good enough for me." This is said with such finality that one realizes the subject is closed.
Maybe we could get more discussion with our religious friends if we could just get them at least to find out what they believe. Perhaps then more progress could be made toward teaching them the truth. Many people are truly startled when you cite certain things from their creed book because they are unacquainted with their creed book.
Once while discussing baptism with a woman who was a Freewill Baptist she declared that we believe the same thing on baptism. She knew that we both practiced immersion but she also thought that the Freewill Baptists baptized for the remission of sins. I told her she was mistaken but she would not believe it until I showed her in the treatise on Freewill Baptist doctrine that they believed you were saved by faith only and that baptism took place later on. She did not know this. She was not informed on what she claimed to believe. There are many cases of this kind that could be cited. This is traditional or heirloom religion.
In the interest of fairness let us proceed just a little farther. Jesus rebuked the Jews of his day for their many traditions. In Matt. 15:2, 3 the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus rebuking him saying, "Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?" Jesus asked them a question also. "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?" Today in the church we find many traditions or "heirlooms" among us. Many things are never put to the test~ as did the Bereans of old, when they "searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17: 11b).
For instance, in prayer we have our heirlooms. We refer to expressions, which have been used so much, that the user has long since ceased to consider whether the expression fits the situation. We are reminded of the old brother who started out in a congregation which had its beginning in a private home. In the early years of the congregation it would have been most appropriate to ask the Lord to be with "this little band of disciples which meets here from time to time" but not so when in recent years that congregation numbers perhaps two or three hundred souls. Is that expression not an heirloom?
Then there are those who speak of being "providentially hindered." Somebody many years ago used that expression or perhaps misused it and it was taken into the circle without testing it. Providence has to do with that which is provided, foreseen or prepared by God. Thus, to be "providentially hindered" would mean that God caused the hindrance. I do not believe that God hinders us from doing that which is right. It is a reproach against God's justice to infer that' God hinders me from doing the very thing he has told me to do. Someone said, "Well, suppose you were on your way to services and you passed by a wreck. Wouldn't you stop to see if you could help even if it made you late?" Of course I would. But I would not be providentially hindered. Well, someone says, maybe God put that there for a test. That is ridiculous. Even under the Law of Moses you could get the ox out of the ditch. Who would say it is wrong to do good on the Lord's Day? However, I do not believe that God causes two people to have an automobile accident in order to teach me a lesson. Now, I may learn a lesson and I may let the experience serve as a test but I also will believe that the accident was caused because one or both parties involved disobeyed certain natural laws and suffered the consequences. My coming along at that time gave to me the opportunity to do well unto them (Gal. 6:10). Let us re-examine this "providential hindrance" tradition.
Others have inherited this traditional expression: "Lord, forgive us our unforgiven sins." With all due respect, may I ask what other kind of sins do we have? When God forgives sins they are taken away. They no longer exist. The only sins we have are those for which we have not asked forgiveness. Can it be that we have just been using a hand-me-down expression without properly considering whether or not it is so?
There are many other things that are all right in themselves that we do and say, but even then we can do and say them over and over again in such a manner that they are little more than the "vain repetitions" for which the Lord rebuked many of his time.
To those who are guided by the traditions of men, consider what Jesus said in Matt. 15:9, "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
Truth Magazine VIII: 4, pp. 1-2 January 1964