The order of cars on this train matters

Curtis K. Shelburne

Samuel Taylor Coleridge uttered profound truth when he warned, “He who begins by loving Christianity more than Truth, will proceed by loving his sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.”

It’s a matter of priority. It’s like the toy train you might set up around your Christmas tree. The engine goes first, then the coal car, then the other cars, and finally the caboose. This train analogy, though, breaks down because your train will likely run even with the cars out of their proper order. If we get the items in Coleridge’s statement out of order, the whole thing runs off the track in a crash that produces serious injury.

I hear Coleridge saying that our Creator is the Source of all genuine Truth, real and absolute. If we love the Truth most of all, we will be led to the One who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Followers of Christ are led to worship Him, not only within Christianity but also bowing within a particular Christian group (church), and should find themselves and their own desires blessedly submitted, bowed in proper position, humbly bringing up the rear as “caboose.”

I think he’s right, not least because I see the obvious wreckage that ensues when we get the things out of order.

If we don’t believe in absolute Truth, then we can believe in anything at all or nothing at all. (Not really. Everybody worships something, even if just themselves.) In that kind of world, “two plus two equals five” is as valuable a belief as “two plus two equals four.” That’s nonsense, of course, but we’re far too “tolerant” and nice to call it nonsense. So the train crashes.

If we don’t believe in genuine Truth, then we can easily relegate Jesus of Nazareth to “great human teacher” status and put him on the shelf with Mohammed and Confucius and others, forgetting that truly “great human teachers” are neither insane enough nor devilish enough to claim to be God, as Jesus did (backing up the claim with a resurrection). The train crashes.

Or, if choosing to follow Christ and worship him, we put our own church tradition above all others and even above Christ and His Church which encompasses all of his people, the train crashes, and we easily come to love ourselves, our group, and our own religious opinions better than Christ or truth and end up very religious and very far from God. (It’s the old mistake of Pharisees from all ages.)

Or, loving ourselves most, we may take another road. We may just play at consumer religion, attend for the show when it’s easy and costs nothing, and worship only ourselves, our tastes, our convenience. More train wrecks.

But get the cars in order, and we’ll find that each of them is beautiful and valuable and that God works and is honored through them all.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at