Worship with OPC Churches

Worship with OPC Churches

What to expect
What would it be like to worship with a congregation of our sister church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), when your travels take you outside the fields served by the RCUS?

Beginnings of the OPC
With the infiltration of theological liberalism and the social gospel, the mainline PCUSA had departed from historic Christianity, including the rejection of doctrines such as the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, and the substitutionary atonement. Dr. J. Gresham Machen wrote his work Christianity and Liberalism (Published by Eerdmans, 1923) raising alarm by asserting that theological orthodoxy necessitates recognition that “the supernatural is the very ground and substance of the Christian faith.”  His warning bell still rings out loudly in the modern context.

The OPC was established out of conflict with the rise of liberalism within the mainline Presbyterian church, today known as the Presbyterian Church in the United States. In 1933, John Gresham Machen led the founding of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions in a drive to redress the rise and toleration of liberal theology within the mission works of the mainline church. These initiatives were vehemently resisted, particularly at the 1935 General Assembly which directed all clergy who supported the Independent Board to distance themselves from it. For their refusal to heed to directives they were suspended from the ministry of the church.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church was founded on June 11, 1936, in the aftermath of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, under the leadership of J. Gresham Machen (longtime professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, who also founded Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929). The founding body of the OPC consisted of thirty-four ministers and seventeen ruling elders, who together with seventy-nine communicant members signed and adopted the act of association and the doctrinal statement.

Originally calling itself the Presbyterian Church of America, the young church was forced by the threat of a lawsuit to change its name in 1939, and it adopted the name Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Churches that left the mainline PCUSA lost their property thus impoverishing the founders of the OPC and imposing hardships in its critical early formative years.  

Precious principles
The early founders established the OPC with a firm resolution that the new church body shall be accountable for its fidelity to the Word of God, and to the principles of Presbyterian eccesiology and polity according to its constitutional standards. The OPC attracted like-minded men and women from other Presbyterian churches, and Reformed churches. Those who joined the OPC found good reason to recognize and adopt her zeal in respect of four key principles:

• To guard herself from any centralization of church power. Higher/broader judicatories/assemblies of the church are courts of appeal. All courts of appeal shall benefit the church by wise and faithful exercise the of the plurality of elders.

• All members of the OPC enjoy the fruits of christian liberty, and liberty of conscience, as summarized in Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 20.

• Every church has the right to perpetual ownership of all its property and assets.

• The accused shall have the right to face their accuser/s and to present a defense from the Holy Scriptures and from the sub-ordinate standards of the church.

The OPC attracted many faithful theologians, each of whom have left the imprint of their labors in the hearts of its members. A list of influential names includes: Edmund P. Clowney, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., R. B. Kuiper, John Murray, Cornelis Van Til, and others.  Additonally, the works of theologians such as Herman Bavink, Loraine Boettner, Louis Berkhof, Charles Hodge, Geerhardus Vos, etc. have an ardent following across the OPC. These theologians are well respected also within the RCUS.

Comparing foundations
The calling of the OPC is to bring glory to God through its churches and individual lives, and to make known to the world the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Like the RCUS, the OPC is a church that is founded in the great Reformation principles of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, according to the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone. Through faithful teaching, members grow spiritually. Like the RCUS the OPC seeks to obey God’s laws because such obedience pleases him. Together we not only embrace the teaching of God’s Word, but also strive to demonstrate its application in our lives.

Like all faithful churches of the Reformation the OPC believes that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, the only infallible rule for faith and conduct. The OPC traces its historical roots to the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, has great respect unto the Three Forms of Unity as harmoniously encapsulated in the seventeenth-century doctrinal document the Westminster Confession of Faith, along with its Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The OPC is Reformed and Presbyterian in its ecclesiology and its polity.

The RCUS and OPC share full ecclesiastic fellowship, which means that both churches recognize the authority and accountability of each others courts (Consistories/Sessions/Church Councils, Classis/Presbyteries, Synods/General Assemblies). We share fraternal representation at each of our respective higher courts and have a high regard for the shared mutual responsibility to guard the fidelity of doctrine and practice.

The OPC Book of Church Order (2020) is of parallel content to the RCUS Constitution with Rules of order (2023). Both books define how the church is constituted, the responsibilities of offices and officers, the rules for jurisdiction, and they define the application of our mutually-held requirements for content and conduct of the public worship services of the church, preserving at all times the regulative principle of worship.

Worship services
When visiting an OPC congregation you are most likely to find yourself in very familiar circumstances. The order of worship will be more or less identical to that of your home church. Like RCUS churches, some aspects of how a local church may handle the collections for the support of the body, or when joining the Communion of the Church at the Lord’s Table, may have local variants, the form and substance of worship and practice are most alike.

Most OPC Churches make use of the new Trinity Psalter Hymnal (2018) that was jointly developed by URCNA and the OPC. This Psalter contains all 150 Psalms, a rich collection of well-known Hymns, the Three Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort), as well as the Westminster standards (Confession as well as the Larger and Shorter Catechisms). A few OPC churches make use of the red Trinity Hymnal (a joint work of the PCA and the OPC), or the Psalms for Singing (RCPNA Psalter).

Worldwide Outreach
In nearly nine decades since its founding, the OPC has slowly grown to over 32,000 members in over 300 churches throughout the United States and Canada. It has been vigorous in its defense and propagation of the historic Reformed faith as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.  The OPC recognizes other churches of like faith and practice and is a member of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) and the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).

When you visit OPC churches, you will find enthusiasm about spreading the good news of God’s salvation locally and around the world. People of all backgrounds are part of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and you will receive a warm welcome. Each local congregation has an important role to play in reaching into its own neighborhood, and then joining others in a worldwide outreach.

As a denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) carries out its mission for this worldwide outreach through three ministry committees: the Committee on Christian Education, the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, and the Committee on Foreign Missions. Each works to accomplish the purpose of bringing glory to God and proclaiming Christ throughout North America and the world, teaching them to obey what he has commanded.

Through the Committee on Christian Education, churches are helped to teach effectively the precious truths of the Reformed faith. This committee produces Sunday school materials, New Horizons magazine, training materials, a hymnal, and worship aids. The OPC Ministerial Intern Program helps churches prepare men for the gospel ministry through summer and yearlong pastoral internships. The Ministerial Training Institute of the OPC supplements seminary preparation with courses especially designed to prepare them for ministry.

The Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension helps plant new churches throughout North America. This committee assists presbyteries in supporting regional home missionaries to identify and develop new church-planting sites and help new congregations find pastors. The OPC has a special concern for the urban areas of our country, and conducts training seminars for church planters. This committee also helps established churches reach their communities with the gospel, and provides an OPC Loan Fund that helps congregations in need of new buildings.

Through the Committee on Foreign Missions, missionaries are sent to the ends of the earth to establish indigenous Reformed churches. Presently the OPC have foreign mission works in Asia, Haiti, Quebec, Uganda, Ukraine, and Uruguay. Where appropriate, the preaching of the gospel is accompanied by medical (and other) ministries of mercy. A significant part of the work on our mission fields is dedicated to preparing the next generation of men for the gospel ministry, including mobile theological mentoring corps that has works in Austria, Switzerland, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, South Sudan, and others as opportunities present a call for assistance.

Both domestically within North America, and particularly in foreign mission fields the OPC seeks to labor alongside missionaries who are sent by churches of like faith and practice.

Resources for Further Information

• What Is the OPC? This document gives a very detailed account of the OPC’s orgins, beliefs, practices, and future. It also contains informative contact information and information on the OPC.

• OPC Historian. The historian publishes a number of books which tell the story of the OPC.

• Machen and the OPC. J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) was the principal figure in the founding of the OPC. 

Elder John Terpstra

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