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Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) General Assembly - 1936
During the nineteenth century the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. 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 1300 (out of 10000) Presbyterian ministers signed the liberal Auburn Affirmation which denied that the Bible was without error and declared that belief in such essential doctrines as Christ’s substitutionary atonement and his bodily resurrection should not be made “tests for ordination or for good standing in our church.” Unbelief was taking over 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) 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 (and later Westminster). When he exposed the modernist unbelief that permeated the foreign missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. the General Assembly in 1933 refused to do anything about it. Because he and others would only support missionaries who were actually preaching the gospel they established the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. The 1934 Assembly condemned their action and they were soon deposed from office. In response 34 ministers 17 ruling elders and 79 laymen met in Philadelphia on June 11 1936 to constitute the Presbyterian Church of America. (Because of a lawsuit brought by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. the name of the new church was changed to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1939.) They wanted to “continue the true spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.” They hoped that a mass exodus of Bible-believing Christians would swell the ranks of the new denomination but it never happened. Then on January 1 1937 Machen’s untimely death dealt a severe blow to the new church.
The first major question facing the new church was whether it would be a typically American fundamentalist and evangelical church or whether it would follow its confession and be biblically Reformed in character. Many who favored the former left in 1937 to form a different church. That left the OPC with a more clear-cut commitment to the Reformed faith. Early leaders of the Church included men of Dutch Reformed and Scottish Presbyterian backgrounds such as Cornelius Van Til and John Murray.
This struggle continued through the ensuing decades but the church maintained a firmly Reformed stand. This 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.
From the beginning the OPC emphasized mission work both at home and abroad. As a result of church-planting efforts the OPC experienced slow but steady growth (which has accelerated in recent years). Today one may find her over 300 churches and mission works in 45 states (and one Canadian province) organized into 16 regional churches each governed by a presbytery (see appendixes 1 and 3). The OPC is currently growing by several churches and mission works annually. Carrying the whole truth of Scripture to the ends of the earth has also been important to Orthodox Presbyterians from the outset. Today the OPC has missions around the world.
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.
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