“In a denomination which tolerates open heresy from the pulpit and the seminary podium, one might think that any idea is allowed. After all, it has gone without a single heresy trial in almost 60 years, and has no list of essential beliefs,” says Sykes. But there is “one charge alone, without any proof or trial, [that] can be used at best to blackball a pastor, or at worst to remove him or her from office. That charge is schism.”
Out of Order, by Powell Sykes
Paperback, 238 Pages, Lulu.com, publisher, $20.00
Charles Powell Sykes Sr. is no peripheral Presbyterian. The son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers and himself a Presbyterian pastor for almost 24 years, this man’s DNA is stamped with the Presbyterian Church (USA) imprint. That’s what makes his decision to leave this denomination so wrenching. Having poured his adult life, both personally and professionally, into efforts to save the ecclesiastical ship from sinking, Sykes is severing the ties that bind.
Out of Order: The Self-Destruction of a Mainline Denomination is a deeply personal book, a travelogue that traces Sykes’ journey through the labyrinth of debate, discord, despair and finally dismissal. It is the story of a minister who took his ordination vows seriously, who served his church at session, presbytery, synod and General Assembly levels. From reviewing stacks of session minutes to prosecuting cases before Permanent Judicial Commissions, Sykes took on churchmanship tasks that he believed were incumbent to his calling. And in this book, he records in meticulous detail the events that led him to an inescapable conclusion: “I can’t play that game anymore.”
Out of Order chronicles the predictable demise of the PCUSA through the experience of a passionate participant, one who loves the fundamentals that make a Presbyterian, a Presbyterian. Those fundamentals – “essential beliefs,” in contemporary parlance – Sykes believes and demonstrates have been serially abandoned by his denomination.
“Everyone is a fundamentalist,” says Sykes. That is to say, everyone has a core set of beliefs that forms the framework through which he or she interprets life experiences. Historically, the Reformed faith of Presbyterians anchored itself in five fundamentals, core truths of Christianity that are revealed in Scripture and affirmed through centuries of Christian tradition. The PCUSA says it has essentials. In fact, it requires its candidates for ordination to say that they “sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of Reformed faith …” But, the PCUSA has manifestly refused to list those essentials. “How can anyone sincerely receive and adopt anything without knowing what it is?” he asks.