Perhaps some of our readers will be aware of the fact that this year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the denomination which was born on June 11, 1936, in Philadelphia, especially under the leadership of J. Gresham Machen, out of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the Presbyterian Church (USA). At first the new denomination had the name Presbyterian Church of America, a name which ultimately was denied them in a court case in 1939. Thereafter it took the name Orthodox Presbyterian Church. This is the denomination which has been closely associated with Westminster Seminary, although that institution has always been officially independent of the church and although in recent years its connection with the OPC has deteriorated and is not nearly so strong.
In earlier years the Standard Bearer always had an exchange arrangement with the Presbyterian Guardian (now defunct), which, though never an official magazine of the OPC, nevertheless was generally recognized as its “voice.” And on more than one occasion the Standard Bearer editorialized on things OPC. Some of our older readers will recall especially the Standard Bearer’s extensive and thorough treatment of the doctrinal issues in the “Clark Case” under the title, “The Text of a Complaint,” a critique to which attention was paid even by the committee of the General Assembly which was appointed to study the doctrinal issues in that case. Personally, my interest in the OPC was stimulated in the days of my youth through the fact that when our family vacationed in Maine, we frequently attended Second Parish Church in Portland and became acquainted with two of that church’s pastors, John H. Skilton (later a professor at Westminster Seminary) and Arthur O. Olson. Second Parish, by the way, was the church where my late father was invited to preach during one of his vacation visits.
Hence, I was delighted when I recently received complimentary copies of three books which were published to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, along with a request for a review. With that request I gladly comply. And rather than have these books get in line in our Book Review department, I will give them immediate attention in our editorial columns.
The first book is undoubtedly the commemorative volume proper. It is a large volume (8 ½ x 11 inches) of 357 pages, printed on glossy paper to accommodate the numerous pictures (both colored and black-and-white). It is entitled The Orthodox Presbyterian Church 1936-1986 and edited by Charles G. Dennison, Historian for the OPC. This is the historical volume. An “Introduction” briefly traces the origin and the history of the OPC. This is followed by a section on denominational life and activities, with chapters on the Committee on Foreign Missions, the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, the Committee on Christian Education, the Committee on Diaconal Ministries, and the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations, as well as one entitled “‘Here and There in the OPC.” Though brief, these chapters furnish a well-rounded picture of denominational activities. Then follows a lengthy section containing the history of every individual congregation in the twelve presbyteries (classes) of the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination. This section (pages 61 to 312) also contains many pictures—of church buildings, pastors, and former pastors of the churches. Included in this section is a tremendous amount of historical detail. Next follow sections on Orthodox Presbyterian Women, on the Total Membership of the OPC, and on the Center for Urban Theological Studies. There is an interesting section on Westminster Theological Seminary, along with pictures, written by Arthur W. Kuschke, Jr. With this there is a special section, very brief, on the only living member of the original Westminster faculty, the well-known Dr. Cornelius Van Til. At the conclusion of this book there is a complete Ministerial Register, with brief biographical sketches, of every minister who has ever been ordained and served in the OPC. No one who reads this book can fail to be impressed by the tremendous amount of work which has gone into the preparation of this volume.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is a relatively small denomination; its membership is a little over 18,000. Humanly speaking, it does not “count” in the ecclesiastical world. Besides, its future, in view of repeated attempts to accomplish a merger with the PCA, may be in doubt, although this year the “Joining and Receiving” proposal was defeated. However, anyone who is interested in American Church History should add this volume to his library. As far as I know, it is the only complete and detailed history of the OPC.
The second book sent to me is Pressing Toward The Mark (Essays Commemorating Fifty Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.) It is edited by Charles G. Dennison and Richard C. Gamble. As the title indicates, this is a book of essays—thirty of them, in a hard-cover book of 489 pages. These essays are on a very broad range of subjects, somewhat loosely gathered into four main divisions: 1. Foundations for Historic Presbyterianism. 2. The American Presbyterian Experience. 3. Perspectives on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. 4. The Mission of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. A brief fifth section offers a bibliography of the writings of J. Gresham Machen. Most, though not all, of the writers are OPC men. As one might expect in a volume of this kind, there is wide variety. I have not yet read all of the essays, but chose a few which appeared interesting to me. The editor himself wrote a chapter entitled, “Thoughts on the Covenant.” Peter A. Lillback is the author of another chapter in the first section, “The Reformers’ Rediscovery of Presbyterian Polity.” I found especially interesting three essays in the third section, namely, “Perspective on the Division of 1937” [This is the division in which Carl McIntire, J. Oliver Buswell, Allan A. MacRae, and others left the infant denomination in the struggle about premillennialism and Christian liberty and formed the Bible Presbyterian Church.], “The Battle over the Ordination of Gordon H. Clark” [a discussion which goes beyond the complaint against Clark’s doctrine at the time of his ordination], and “The Life and Death of a Dakota Church.” In the fourth section I found interesting Lawrence Eyre’s essay, “Reflections on Professor John Murray.” But there is a wealth of information and perspectives in this volume. Get it, and read it for yourself. It will be a worthwhile addition to your library.
The third book was not begun with the intention of serving as an anniversary publication. It is a 135 page paperback from the pen of Robert K. Churchill, an OPC minister who was ordained in 1936 by the first General Assembly. The Rev. Churchill died in 1980 with his book not completed; the book in its present form was completed by George E. Haney, in time to be added to the publications in observance of the OPC’s fiftieth anniversary. The title is Lest We Forget (A Personal Reflection on the Formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church). It is autobiographical, and offers a very personal account of Mr. Churchill’s life from his conversion to his ordination and early ministry. The significant aspect of the book is its account of the struggle which led to the formation of the OPC. The book is interesting, but not the best of these three commemorative volumes.
This rather detailed summary of these three commemorative volumes is not to be construed as meaning that the Standard Bearer is promoting the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and that it has no criticism of that denomination. Over the years, as the pages of our magazine will witness, the contrary has been true. Nevertheless, for those who wish to be well-informed about the American church scene, we recommend these volumes.
Note: Apparently these books are not being commercially distributed. If you wish to obtain them, write to: Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Box 48, Coraopolis, PA 15108. The prices are as follows:
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church 1936-1986, $21.00
Pressing Toward The Mark, $19.95
Lest We Forget, $4.95