During the nineteenth century, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA) was largely a strong and faithful church. But liberalism began to creep in from Europe, and little was done to check its spread. In 1924, about thirteen hundred out of ten thousand Presbyterian ministers signed the liberal Auburn Affirmation. The Auburn Affirmation denied that the Bible is without error and declared that belief in such essential doctrines as Christ’s substitutionary atonement and His bodily resurrection should not be required for ordination or for good standing in the church.
Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, remained a bastion of Presbyterian orthodoxy, but in 1929 its board was reorganized with a mandate to put liberal professors on the faculty. Four Princeton professors resigned, and with the support of others, they established Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia as an independent institution to continue teaching biblical Christianity.
The leading opponent of liberalism in those days was J. Gresham Machen, a Presbyterian minister and professor at Princeton. When he exposed the modernist unbelief that permeated the foreign missions of the PCUSA, the General Assembly in 1933 refused to do anything about it. Because he and others would support only missionaries who they believed were preaching the gospel, they established the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.
The 1934 General Assembly condemned Machen and his followers’ action and subsequently deposed them from office. In response, thirty-four ministers, seventeen ruling elders, and seventy-nine laymen met in Philadelphia on June 11, 1936, to constitute the Presbyterian Church of America. Machen also led in the formation of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Machen’s death in January 1937, at the age of fifty-six, dealt a severe blow to both the new church and the seminary.
Because of a lawsuit by the PCUSA, in 1939 the name of the new church was changed from Presbyterian Church in America to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. “Ortho” comes from the Greek word for straight, and “dox” comes from the Greek word for thinking; thus, Orthodox (straight thinking) Presbyterian Church.
A complete history of the OPC can be found at http://www.opc.org/whatis.html.
The OPC has a membership of approximately thirty thousand in some 330 congregations and mission churches, served by five hundred ministers in seventeen presbyteries throughout North America. They have mission work in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Korea, Suriname, and Uganda.
The OPC is in phase two of ecclesiastical fellowship with the United Reformed Churches in North America. The two are presently working jointly on a proposed new Psalter Hymnal. The OPC congregations have been using the Trinity Hymnal, while URCNA churches have been using the older version of the Christian Reformed Church Psalter Hymnal. Any reality of the OPC and the URCNA uniting is hindered due to the slight differences in confessional basis (Heidelberg and Westminster) and church polity (government).
The OPC and another NAPARC member, the Presbyterian Church in America, remain on 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 out of the PCUS, while the PCA came out of the Southern Presbyterian Church in 1973.
The OPC is also a member of the International Conference of Reformed Churches, which includes Reformed and Presbyterian denominations from across the globe. Outside the ICRC and NAPARC, the OPC has relations with the African Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Church in Japan, the Presbyterian Church in Japan, and the Presbyterian Church of Brazil.
1. The section about the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is edited from its website: www.opc.org.