Orthodox Presbyterian Church

For the unrelated denomination in New Zealand, see Orthodox Presbyterian Church of New Zealand.
"Presbyterian Church of America" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Presbyterian Church in America or Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Abbreviation OPC
Classification Protestant
Theology Confessional Reformed
Governance Presbyterian
Moderator Jeffery A. Landis[1]
Associations North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council, International Conference of Reformed Churches
Region United States
Headquarters Willow Grove, Pennsylvania
Origin June 11, 1936
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Separated from Presbyterian Church in the United States of America
Separations Bible Presbyterian Church (1937)
Congregations 273[2]
Members 31,112[2]
Ministers 534[2]
Official website www.opc.org

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) is a confessional Presbyterian denomination located primarily in the northern 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.[3]


The Orthodox Presbyterian Church was founded in 1936, largely through the efforts of John Gresham Machen. Machen and others had founded Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929, in response to a re-organization 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.[4]

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.[4]

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.[5]


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:[6]

French theologian John Calvin was one of the theologians influential in the early years of the Reformed family of Protestantism

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.[7]


At the 2013 General Assembly, the OPC reported 270 churches, 49 mission works, and 30,555 members.[1] 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]

American Politics

The General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church occasionally commissions studies on hot button issues. Study reports do not bear constitutional status and "are in the realm of pastoral advice" according to the denomination.[13] Sometimes after a study has concluded, a formal statement will be voted upon by the General Assembly.

The 39th General Assembly, meeting in 1972, 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)."[14]

In 1993, the denomination petitioned then President Bill Clinton to continue to disallow homosexuals to serve in the military.[15]

After considerable debate, the 68th General Assembly meeting in 2001 concluded that women should not be subject to military draft or serve in direct combat positions.[16]

In 2006-2007, a study committee formed by the General Assembly created a report that concluded that "the church should never turn its back on fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, whether they are legally or illegally in the country. We should be willing to see to the spiritual and physical needs of anyone who comes to the church." The report also recommended that illegal immigrants seek to remedy their legal status.[17]

OPC ministers have held a variety of political views. Carl Truman, currently an ordained minister in the OPC, has authored Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative (pub. 2010). Several founders of American Christian Reconstructionism (such as Rousas John Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen) were Orthodox Presbyterian ministers.


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] Its 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.[6]

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."[6]

The Committee on Foreign Missions currently sends missionaries to: China, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Haiti, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Québec, Suriname, and Uganda.[6]


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]


  1. 1 2 Fox, Arthur J. (2013). "2013 General Assembly Report". Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Retrieved 2014-06-06.
  2. 1 2 3 Patterson, Daniel L. (6 June 2014). "Orthodox Presbyterian Church 2014 General Assembly Report 2". Aquila Report. Retrieved 2014-06-06.
  3. Olson, Roger E. (2007). Pocket History of Evangelical Theology. InterVarsity Press. p. 70. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  4. 1 2 "Fighting the Good Fight". Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  5. D. G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 163-166.
  6. 1 2 3 4 "What is the OPC?: Part II.1. Our Constitution; II.2. Our System of Doctrine". The Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  7. "The 71st General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church received a Report of the Committee to Study the Views of Creation" http://opc.org/GA/CreationReport.pdf
  8. http://theaquilareport.com/orthodox-presbyterian-church-2014-general-assembly-report-2/
  9. "Presbyteries". Opc.org. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  10. "Presbytery of New Jersey, Orthodox Presbyterian Church". Pnjopc.org. 2011-01-01. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 "Report of the Committee on Problems of Race". Opc.org. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  12. "Report of the Committee on Problems of Race". Opc.org. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  13. https://www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=356
  14. "Statement on Abortion". Opc.org. Retrieved 2014-02-18.
  15. "Humble Petition to President Clinton". Opc.org. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  16. Author Barnes, Doug (2001-08-07). "Should Women Fight?". Banner of Truth. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  17. "Q and A". Opc.org. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  18. "The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church", pg. 17accessed July 4, 2013 http://opc.org/BCO/BCO_2011.pdf
  19. 1 2 BCO pg. 17
  20. 1 2 BCO, pg. 20
  21. BCO pg. 21
  22. 1 2 BCO pg. 23
  23. BCO, pg. 24
  24. http://www.opc.org/GA/women_in_office.html#WOMEN%20AND%20SPECIAL%20OFFICE
  25. http://opc.org/qa.html?question_id=8
  26. https://www.twitter.com/NCPCboston
  27. "About Home Missions," retrieved Oct. 1st, 2013 http://chmce.org/about-home-missions/
  28. "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
  29. "Member Churches" accessed July 4th, 2013 http://www.naparc.org/member-churches
  30. "The OPC's Ecclesiastical Relations" retrieved September 14th, 2013, http://www.opc.org/relations/links.html

Further reading

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