History of the OPC

June 25, 2011

Rev. Dr. Lillback, president, and the whole Westminster family join to thank the Lord for the OPC's steadfast biblical convictions.

Excerpt from Introduction to Fighting the Good Fight - A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

The genius of the Reformation was its recovery of the biblical faith of Christ alone, grace alone, the Bible alone, and faith alone. While the reformers of the sixteenth century made significant contributions to the cause of the Reformed faith, the OPC owes a special debt to the British theologians and pastors who assembled during the 1640s to draft the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. For the Westminster Standards not only have become the theological touchstone for the OPC, but in the estimate of many Presbyterians the confession and catechisms embody the fullest and clearest exposition of the insights of Calvin, Knox, and Zwingli. According to Benjamin Warfield, one of the greatest Presbyterian theologians in the history of the United States, the Westminster Standards "mark an epoch in the history of human reflection on the truths of the gospel—an epoch in the attainment and registry of doctrinal truth." For this reason J. Gresham Machen, a central figure in the founding of the OPC, could claim that the Reformed faith, "the creed God has taught us in his Word," was "glorious." The OPC, to the extent that it continues to uphold this magnificent line of Christian truth, is indeed a grand church.

Yet the OPC is not the only Presbyterian or Reformed church whose origins can be traced to the Reformation. There are, in fact, fourteen different Presbyterian denominations in North America, including the mainline Presbyterian Church in the USA, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and the Korean Presbyterian Church. So what makes the OPC different from these other Presbyterian bodies?

Spokesmen and apologists for the denomination have offered different answers to this question. For Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., professor of biblical and systematic theology, emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, the basic identity of the OPC is what binds it together with "all churches built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone." According to John P. Galbraith, a man with many years of service in the OPC, the denomination is grounded in the belief "that God's Word is Truth," and that "the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms interpret that Truth most truly." In The Presbyterian Conflict, a book that chronicled the events that led up to the founding of the OPC in 1936, Edwin H. Rian wrote that the OPC "is what its name implies, truly Presbyterian.... It is a church devoted to the Bible as the final authority for faith and practice and convinced that only through the sacrificial death of Christ upon the cross can men be saved."

This little book, a brief history of the OPC designed for use in adult education classes and church study groups, is written from the perspective that one of the things that makes the OPC different from other churches is its history. The authors believe that a proper understanding of the OPC must include some knowledge of the denomination's past. The church's history reflects the unique emphases and particular concerns of Orthodox Presbyterians.

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