Orthodox Presbyterian Church
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|Orthodox Presbyterian Church|
|Associations||North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council, International Conference of Reformed Churches|
|Origin||June 11, 1936
|Separated from||Presbyterian Church in the United States of America|
|Separations||Bible Presbyterian Church|
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) is a conservative 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). Led by J. Gresham Machen, who had helped found Westminster Theological Seminary, the church attempted to preserve historic Calvinism within a Presbyterian structure.
In the second half of the 19th century, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America began to shift away from historic Presbyterian faith and practice. Earlier in the century (1838), there had been a split between "Old School" and "New School" lines, with the "Old School" Presbyterians, perhaps being best represented by Charles Hodge, standing for a stricter stance on confessional subscription and church polity, and the "New School" Presbyterians, including Lyman Beecher and Albert Barnes, believing that Presbyterians should take a more active role in social issues, often at the expense of maintaining strict Calvinist orthodoxy.
In 1869, the "Old School" and "New School" Presbyterians reunited. What resulted was not only the PCUSA becoming more broadly ecumenical with other denominations in the name of social reform, but also a decline in doctrinal purity, which included a revision of the Westminster Confession in 1903 to soften strict Calvinism. Higher criticism of the Bible had also become influential in the late 19th century, resulting, in one case, the deposition of Charles A. Briggs, a professor at New York City's Union Theological Seminary, for heresy in 1893. In 1909, the Presbytery of New York attempted to ordain a group of Union graduates who could neither affirm nor deny the virgin birth. In response, the following year's General Assembly listed five essentials of the faith that ministers must affirm: the innerrancy of Scripture, the miracles of Christ, the Virgin Birth, substitutionary atonement and the resurrection, essentials which would later be expounded in a series of articles known collectively as The Fundamentals, and those who adhered to these five doctrines were known as fundamentalists. In 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick, a prominent modernist Baptist serving as a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in New York City, delivered a sermon entitled "Shall the Fundamentalists Win"?, igniting the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy.
Machen and the Departure from the PCUSA
Standing in the tradition of men like Charles Hodge, Geerhardus Vos, and B. B. Warfield, Machen was one of the chief conservative professors at Princeton Theological Seminary, which until the early twentieth century was a bastion of orthodox Presbyterian theology. In 1929, the seminary board reorganized along more theologically liberal lines, and appointed professors who were significantly more friendly to modernism and some forms of liberalism.
Machen and a group of other conservatives objected to these changes, forming Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. Then, objecting to theological positions that he believed compromised the distinctives of the Reformed tradition, if not the basic tenets of Christianity itself, Machen pled his case before the General Assembly of the PCUSA. The Assembly refused to take action, and so Machen and several other professors, along with a group of fellow conservatives, formed the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.
In 1934, the General Assembly condemned this action and Machen and his allies were deposed from the ministry of the old 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 their choice of name, and in 1939, the denomination adopted its current name, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Schism & Continuity
At the time leading up to the founding of the OPC, Machen and his allies in the PCUSA were considered to be prominent leaders of Christian fundamentalism, in that they held to the Five Fundamentals of the Christian faith. Machen and the majority of the OPC, however, were committed to the historic Reformed tradition with plenary statements of faith, rather than to the fundamentalist movement. Although the OPC agreed with the fundamentalists on many issues—including the inerrancy of the Bible—Machen, who died unexpectedly from pneumonia in January 1937, and most OPC pastors felt that fundamentalism was inadequate in its doctrinal formulations.
However, a significant faction of the OPC, led by Carl McIntire, and included other men such as J. Oliver Buswell and Allan MacRae, was strongly committed to a bare Fundamentalism, distinguished by such things as total abstinence from alcohol, premillennialist eschatology, opposition to the ecumenical movement, and political activism against the Communist Party, as well as toleration of the use of the Scofield Reference Bible. In 1937, this faction broke away to form the Bible Presbyterian Church. The departure of the McIntire faction left the OPC more committed to what it considers the historic reformed faith.
Pivotal, early leaders of the church included men from American Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and Scottish Presbyterian backgrounds, such as Cornelius Van Til and John Murray. Controversies (in the OPC and in American evangelicalism) and failed attempts at church union with other Reformed churches (the CRC and PCA) ultimately promoted a firmly Reformed commitment. Yet, a tension between a more American evangelical and a more rigorously Reformed emphasis remains in the OPC, "but our commitment is to follow the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture, wherever he leads."  "Although the OPC is not large, she has never isolated herself from the rest of Christ's church. She has energetically promoted the Reformed faith around the world and has engaged in ecumenical discussions with other biblically Reformed churches in order to perfect the unity that Christ desires for his people."
In 2011, at the 75th anniversary of the OPC, Rev. John P. Galbraith, a student of J. Gresham Machen who was ordained in 1937, "delivered a stirring reminder to the Assembly that the OPC was a sin-stained communion to whom God has been good. He urged ongoing fidelity to the 'two pillars' of its founders: that the Bible was the Word of God and that it was to be obeyed."
The OPC system of doctrine is the Reformed faith, also called Calvinism (because Calvin was the most important exponent of it during the Reformation). It pulls together the most significant doctrines taught in the Bible. These doctrines are set forth in the Westminster Standards (which include the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms), with accompanying biblical references).
The OPC provides the following summary of its doctrine:
- 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.
Demographics and organization
The OPC churches are located predominantly in the United States, only 5 churches are in Canada, four in the Province of Ontario and 1 in Alberta. Most OPC churches are in the Upper Midwestern states. Pennsylvania and California are the states where the OPC churches are numerically the strongest. At the 2013 General Assembly, the OPC reported 270 churches, 49 mission works, and 30,555 members.
The OPC has 17 Presbyteries, the Central Pennsylvania, Central US, Connecticut and Southern New York, the Dakotas, Michigan and Ontario, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, New Jersey, New York and New England, Northern California and Nevada, South, Southeast, Southern California, Southwest.
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. 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. The session is also to oversee worship.
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. 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.
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 
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. 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. It also arranges internship training for prospective ministers, oversees diaconal needs.
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.
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."
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.
Early leaders in the denomination include J. Gresham Machen, Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, Robert Dick Wilson, R. B. Kuiper, John Murray, Ned B. Stonehouse, and Edward Joseph Young. Other notable ministers include Greg Bahnsen, Gregory K. Beale, Charles G. Dennison, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Darryl G. Hart, Meredith G. Kline, George W. Knight, K. Scott Oliphint, Carl R. Trueman, David VanDrunen and Paul Norman Browne.
The OPC and the Presbyterian Church in America, the largest conservative Reformed denomination in the United States, remain on very cordial terms despite two failed merger attempts in the 1980s. The two differ from each other more in origin and history (with the PCA coming about when conservatives left the Presbyterian Church in the United States, aka, the "Southern Presbyterians" in 1973) than doctrine. Historically, however, the OPC has been more conservative than the PCA in its approach to worship, church government and discipline. Like the PCA, the OPC does not ordain women. However, while most OPC congregations only allow women to teach Sunday school classes for children and other women, some of the more moderate PCA congregations allow a woman to do the same things as a non-ordained man. The OPC also requires elders and deacons to accept the Westminster Standards without exception as an accurate expression of the Bible's teachings, while the PCA allows elders and deacons to accept them with minor exceptions.
In 1975, the OPC became a founding member of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). 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.
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.
Further, the OPC, as a historically Northern U.S. body, was not informed culturally by the Lost Cause of the South as were the churches that would form the nucleus of the PCA.
- Hart, D.G. & Meuther, John Seeking a Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterianism (P&R Publishing) 2007, pg.138
- Hart & Meuther, pg. 129
- Hart & Meuther, pg. 137
- Hart & Meuther, pg. 171-173
- "What is the OPC?: 2. Our System of Doctrine". The Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
- Fox, Arthur. Orthodox Presbyterian Church "2013 General Assembly Report". Retrieved 5 November 2013.
- "The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church", pg. 17accessed July 4, 2013 http://opc.org/BCO/BCO_2011.pdf
- BCO pg. 17
- BCO, pg. 20
- BCO, pg.20
- BCO pg. 21
- BCO pg. 23
- BCO, pg. 24
- "What is the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?" accessed July 5th, 2013
- "What is the OPC?". Retrieved 8 January 2013.
- "About Home Missions," retrieved Oct. 1st, 2013 http://chmce.org/about-home-missions/
- "The Constituting Meeting of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council(NAPARC)" accessed July 4th, 2013, http://www.naparc.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Minutes-of-the-1st-1975-Meeting-of-NAPARC.pdf
- "Member Churches" accessed July 4th, 2013 http://www.naparc.org/member-churches
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