Orthodox Presbyterian Church

From Academic Kids

Along with Westminster Theological Seminary, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) was founded by conservative Presbyterians who revolted against the modernist theology within the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) during the 1930s. Led by J Gresham Machen, the church attempted to preserve historic Calvinism within a Presbyterian structure.

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 Board of the seminary reorganized along more liberal lines, and began hiring professors who were significantly more friendly towards modernism and some forms of liberalism.

Machen and a group of other conservatives objected to these changes, and formed 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 relieved of their positions and effectively thrown out of the denomination. In 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 organized half a century later). The PCUSA filed suit against the fledgling denomination for their choice of name, and in 1936 Machen's group renamed itself the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

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, to the extent that fundamentalism is a defense of traditional Protestant Christianity. However, Machen and the majority of the OPC were committed to the Reformed tradition rather than to the fundamentalist movement as such. By 1937, a faction of the OPC more committed to a fundamentalist direction, distinguished by ministers who would preach total abstinence from alcohol, tolerance of premillennialism, opposition to the ecumenical movement, and political activism against the Communist party, broke away under the leadership of Carl McIntire to form the Bible Presbyterian Church.

Early leaders in the denomination include Cornelius Van Til and John Murray.

The denomination maintains a cordial relationship with the Presbyterian Church in America, the largest conservative Reformed denomination in the United States, with which the OPC almost merged in the 1970s. The two differ from each other more in origin and history than doctrine.

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