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The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), along with Westminster Theological Seminary, 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's goal was to preserve adherence to doctrines of the historic Westminster Standards and Calvinistic theology.


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, forming 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. 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 current 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 1939 the denomination renamed itself the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

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


  • Churchill, Robert King. Lest We Forget : a Personal Reflection on the Formation of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia : The Committee for the Historian of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1987. ISBN 0-934688-34-6
  • Hart, D.G. Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8010-2023-9
  • Hart, D.G., and John Muether. Fighting the Good Fight of Faith: A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia: The Committee on Christian Education and the Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1995. ISBN 0-934688-81-8
  • North, Gary. Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1996. ISBN 0-930464-74-5
  • Rian, Edwin H. The Presbyterian Conflict. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1940. ISBN 0-934688-67-2
  • Loetscher, Lefferts A., The Broadening Church: A Study of Theological Issues in the Presbyterian Church Since 1869. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

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