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Orthodox Presbyterian Church

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Orthodox Presbyterian Church

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) is a confessional Presbyterian denomination located primarily in the United States. It was founded by conservative members of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) who strongly objected to the pervasive Modernist theology during the 1930s (see Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy). It has had an influence on evangelicalism far beyond its size.[1]


The Orthodox Presbyterian Church was founded in 1936, largely through the efforts of Princeton Theological Seminary. In 1933, Machen, concerned about liberal theology tolerated by Presbyterians on the mission field, formed the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. The next Presbyterian General Assembly reaffirmed that Independent Board was unconstitutional and gave the associated clergy an ultimatum to break their links. When Machen and seven other clergy refused, they were suspended from the Presbyterian ministry.[2]

John Gresham Machen was instrumental in founding the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

On June 11, 1936, Machen and a group of conservative ministers, elders, and laymen met in Philadelphia to form the Presbyterian Church of America (not to be confused with the Presbyterian Church in America, which came about decades later). Machen was elected as the first moderator. The PCUSA filed suit against the fledgling denomination for its choice of name, and in 1939, the denomination adopted its current name, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.[2]

According to a 2004 church committee report, the founding faculty of the Westminster Theological Seminary became members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The same committee considered Westminster to be the denomination's de facto seminary for its first three decades.[3]

Machen died in January 1937. Later that year, a significant faction of the OPC, led by Carl McIntire, broke away to form the Bible Presbyterian Church, a denomination which, unlike the OPC, held to total abstinence from alcohol and premillennialism.[4]


The OPC system of doctrine is the Reformed faith, also called Calvinism. Calvin's doctrines continued to develop after his death, and a particular evolution of them was set forth by a 17th-century assembly of British theologians in the Westminster Standards (which include the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms). The OPC holds to the Westminster Standards with the American revisions of 1788.

The OPC provides the following summary of its doctrine:[5]

French theologian John Calvin was the founder of the Reformed family of Protestantism
  • The Bible, having been inspired by God, is entirely trustworthy and without error. Therefore, we are to believe and obey its teachings. The Bible is the only source of special revelation for the church today.
  • The one true God is personal, yet beyond our comprehension. He is an invisible spirit, completely self-sufficient and unbounded by space or time, perfectly holy and just, and loving and merciful. In the unity of the Godhead there are three "persons": the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • God created the heavens and the earth, and all they contain. He upholds and governs them in accordance with his eternal will. God is sovereign—in complete control—yet this does not diminish human responsibility.
  • Because of the sin of the first man, Adam, all mankind is corrupt by nature, dead in sin, and subject to the wrath of God. But God determined, by a covenant of grace, that sinners may receive forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ has always been the only way of salvation, in both Old Testament and New Testament times.
  • The Son of God took upon himself a human nature in the womb of the virgin Mary, so that in her son Jesus the divine and human natures were united in one person. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life and died on a cross, bearing the sins of, and receiving God's wrath for, all those who trust in him for salvation (his chosen ones). He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, where he sits as Lord and rules over his kingdom (the church). He will return to judge the living and the dead, bringing his people (with glorious, resurrected bodies) into eternal life, and consigning the wicked to eternal punishment.
  • Those whom God has predestined unto life are effectually drawn to Christ by the inner working of the Spirit as they hear the gospel. When they believe in Christ, God declares them righteous (justifies them), pardoning their sins and accepting them as righteous, not because of any righteousness of their own, but by imputing Christ's merits to them. They are adopted as the children of God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies them, enabling them increasingly to stop sinning and act righteously. They repent of their sins (both at their conversion and thereafter), produce good works as the fruit of their faith, and persevere to the end in communion with Christ, with assurance of their salvation.
  • Believers strive to keep God's moral law, which is summarized in the Ten Commandments, not to earn salvation, but because they love their Savior and want to obey him. God is the Lord of the conscience, so that men are not required to believe or do anything contrary to, or in addition to, the Word of God in matters of faith or worship.
  • Christ has established his church, and particular churches, to gather and perfect his people, by means of the ministry of the Word, the sacraments of baptism (which is to be administered to the children of believers, as well as believers) and the Lord's Supper (in which the body and blood of Christ are spiritually present to the faith of believers), and the disciplining of members found delinquent in doctrine or life. Christians assemble on the Lord's Day to worship God by praying, hearing the Word of God read and preached, singing psalms and hymns, and receiving the sacraments.

OPC pastors and presbyteries teach a range of doctrines based on the historical view of the biblical creation accounts, from framework and analogical interpretations to young earth.[6]


At the 2013 General Assembly, the OPC reported 270 churches, 49 mission works, and 30,555 members.[7] The denomination had 30,759 members of whom are 22,493 communicants, served by 534 ministers.[8]

The OPC has 17 Presbyteries, the Central Pennsylvania, Central US, Connecticut & Southern New York, the Dakotas, Michigan & Ontario, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, New Jersey, New York & New England, Northern California & Nevada, South, Southeast, Southern California and Southwest.[9][10]


In the early 1970s the General Assembly commissioned a report[11] that stated that the OPC was a "largely white" denomination and that this was the result of ecclesiastical "neglect."[11] The Committee which authored the report identified several reasons why this is so. First, the report identifies the fact that the OPC emerged from the Presbyterian Church USA, which "lost the allegiance of blacks during the ecclesiastical discrimination against blacks in the post-civil war period."[11] Second, it acknowledged that the OPC's "ministry to minority groups has been almost non-existent."[11] The report recommended more outreach to minority and urban areas. The report's rationale that the denomination inherited the reconstruction racial dynamics of the PCUSA has not been updated since 1974.[11] The committee which authored the report was dissolved after submitting it to the General Assembly.[12]


In 2006-2007, a study committee formed by the General Assembly created a report that concluded that illegal aliens who have come to have a credible profession of faith in Christ should be willing to 'repent' and seek to remedy their unlawful immigration status.[13] After considerable debate, the 68th General Assembly declared that women serving in combat positions in the military is contrary to the Word of God.[14] The editor of the OPC's ministerial journal has asserted that the American political system originally "assumed the internal constraints of true Christianity," which, he argues, "are now rapidly disappearing in the Western world."[15]

In 1993, the denomination petitioned then President Bill Clinton to continue to disallow homosexuals to serve in the military. According to the petition, "homosexuality is a reproach to any nation. It undermines the family, and poses a substantial threat to the general health, safety and welfare of our citizens."[16]

The 39th General Assembly adopted a statement on abortion that included the affirmation that "voluntary abortion, except possibly to save the physical life of the mother, is in violation of the Sixth Commandment (Exodus 20:13)."[17]

Several of the most important founders of American Christian Reconstructionism (such as Rousas John Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen) were Orthodox Presbyterian ministers. Other OPC ministers, such as David VanDrunen, are two kingdoms adherents.


The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has a Presbyterian polity and has several components, with specific duties.

The Session - The Session consists of its ministers and ruling elders of an individual congregation.[18] It's duties include overseeing public worship, the addition and removal of members, discipline of members and keeping records of membership and the administration of the sacraments.[19] The session is also to oversee worship.[19]

The Presbytery - All of the members of local congregations and its ministers are organized into a regional church, and the presbytery serves as the governing body of the regional church.[20] The presbytery is composed of all of the ministers and ruling elders of the congregations in the regional church, and presbytery meetings are to, if possible, all of the ministers on the roll and one ruling elder from each respective session.[20]

The duties of the presbytery include overseeing evangelism and resolving questions regarding discipline. The presbytery also takes candidates for ministry under its care, as well as examines, licenses and ordains them. It also, if necessary, can remove a minister [21]

General Assembly - The General Assembly, for the OPC is the supreme judicatory (BCO, pg. 25), and as such, it is to resolve all doctrinal and disciplinary issues that have not been resolved by the sessions and presbyteries.[22] The other duties of the General Assembly include organizing regional churches, calling ministers and licentiates to missionary or other ministries, and reviewing the records from the presbyteries.[23] It also arranges internship training for prospective ministers, oversees diaconal needs.[5]

The General Assembly is to meet at least once a year, and is to have, at maximum, 155 voting commissioners, including the moderator and stated clerk of the previous General Assembly, and ministers and ruling elders representing their respective presbyteries.[22]

Women in Office - The OPC does not ordain women as pastors, elders, or deacons.[24][25] At least one congregation has allowed for women to serve as unordained deaconesses, but that congregation has since closed.[26]



The OPC works (alongside other Reformed churches) to establish "indigenous national churches that are firmly and fully committed to the Reformed standards, that are self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating, and with whom the OPC may have fraternal relations."[5]

The Committee on Foreign Missions currently sends missionaries to: China, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Haiti, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Québec, Suriname, and Uganda.[5]


The OPC's Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension serves to help sustain and plant congregations in the United States and Canada. Amongst their duties is to aid presbyteries in planting congregations, assist presbyteries in the support of home missionaries, help new congregations find organizing pastors, help established congregations to find pastors and to manage a loan fund that helps congregations in need of property and buildings.[27]

Ecumenical relations

In 1975, the OPC became a founding member of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC).[28] Through NAPARC, the OPC currently enjoys fraternal relations with the PCA, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, the Reformed Church in the United States, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the United Reformed Churches in North America, the Canadian and American Reformed Churches and several other confessional Continental Reformed and Presbyterian Churches in the United States and Canada.[29]

The OPC is also a member of the International Conference of Reformed Churches, which includes Reformed & Presbyterian denominations from across the globe. Outside the ICRC and NAPARC, the OPC has relations with the Africa Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Church in Japan, the Presbyterian Church in Japan and the Presbyterian Church of Brazil.[30]


Further reading

  • Gatiss, Lee. Christianity and the Tolerance of Liberalism: J.Gresham Machen and the Presbyterian Controversy of 1922-1937. London: Latimer Trust, 2008 ISBN 978-0-946307-63-0
  • Churchill, Robert King. Lest We Forget : a Personal Reflection on the Formation of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia : The Committee for the Historian of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1987. ISBN 0-934688-34-6
  • Longfield, Bradley J. The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-19-508674-0
  • Hart, D.G. Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8010-2023-9
  • Hart, D.G., and John Muether. Fighting the Good Fight of Faith: A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia: The Committee on Christian Education and the Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1995. ISBN 0-934688-81-8
  • North, Gary. Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1996. ISBN 0-930464-74-5
  • Calhoun, David B., Princeton Seminary: The Majestic Testimony, 1869-1929. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1996.
  • Rian, Edwin H. The Presbyterian Conflict. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1940. ISBN 0-934688-67-2
  • Loetscher, Lefferts A., The Broadening Church: A Study of Theological Issues in the Presbyterian Church Since 1869. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Elliot, Paul M., Christianity and Neo-Liberalism: The Spiritual Crisis in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Beyond, 2005, Trinity Foundation, ISBN 978-0-940931-68-8

External links

  • The Orthodox Presbyterian Church: official website
  • Great Commission Publications
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