CON Contact Us DON Donate
Our History General Assembly Worldwide Outreach Ministries Standards Resources

Question and Answer

The OPC, PCUSA and Roman Catholic Church


I am a member of the Presbyterian Church/USA; however I was a member of the Episcopal Church and was baptized a Roman Catholic as an infant. My question: Is the OPC less suspicious of the Roman Church and willing to refer to it in less historically pejorative language?

I cannot hope to live long enough to see a rapprochement between the OPC, Presbyterian, Reformed and the RC; nor, for the Roman Church to rescind its anathematization of John Calvin, and publicly affirm the Reformed as equal churches. For all parties concerned to view each other as legitimate Christian churches, guided the Holy Ghost, would be reassuring to behold; however, life is not like that, and often the good must be sacrificed for the better.


We are grateful for your submission to the OPC Website. I will try to offer a few thoughts.

Perhaps you know that the OPC separated from the PCUSA in 1936.

To provide a short summary of that historical development, here is a quotation from a helpful online publication at the OPC website entitled "What is the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?". You may want to read it in its entirety.

During the nineteenth century, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. was largely a strong and faithful church. But liberalism began to creep in from Europe, and little was done to check its spread. In 1924 about 1,300 (out of 10,000) Presbyterian ministers signed the liberal Auburn Affirmation, which denied that the Bible was without error and declared that belief in such essential doctrines as Christ's substitutionary atonement and his bodily resurrection should not be made "tests for ordination or for good standing in our church." Unbelief was taking over the church.

Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, remained a bastion of Presbyterian orthodoxy. But in 1929 its Board was reorganized with a mandate to put liberal professors on the faculty. Four Princeton professors resigned and (with the support of others) established Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia as an independent institution to continue teaching biblical Christianity.

The leading opponent of liberalism in those days was J. Gresham Machen, a Presbyterian minister and professor at Princeton (and later Westminster). When he exposed the modernist unbelief that permeated the foreign missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the General Assembly in 1933 refused to do anything about it. Because he and others would only support missionaries who were actually preaching the gospel, they established the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. The 1934 Assembly condemned their action, and they were soon deposed from office. In response, 34 ministers, 17 ruling elders, and 79 laymen met in Philadelphia on June 11, 1936, to constitute the Presbyterian Church of America. (Because of a lawsuit brought by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the name of the new church was changed to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1939.)

Machen and the newly formed OPC were in much the same situation in relation to the PCUSA as John Calvin and Luther and the other Reformers were in relation to Roman Catholicism. The PCUSA defrocked Machen in much the same way that Calvin and Luther were under the anathema of the Roman church. Conversely, the OPC believes the PCUSA has abandoned historic biblical Christianity.

Since its beginning, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has been committed with integrity to the Scriptures as the inspired, infallible Word of God. Counting the cost of standing for truth, we are persuaded that the Word of God is without error and that the teaching of Scripture is not bound by cultural limitations. We wholeheartedly subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechism in its entirety. Ministers and elders are required to subscribe to those documents and to uphold their teachings.

This in itself is a radical difference from the PCUSA where the Westminster Confession and catechisms are more looked upon as historical documents that summarize what the church used to believe. Ministers and elders in the PCUSA are not required to subscribe to those confessional statements. In fact, I myself experienced first-hand in 1979-1981 in what was then the UPCUSA, the courts of the church upholding a minister who openly denied the deity of Christ and who would not affirm either the bodily resurrection of Christ or the blood atonement. That is what led me to join the OPC shortly thereafter. The PCUSA has condoned denials of the Biblical faith and disciplined those men like Dr. Machen and others who have sought to hold her accountable to the Word of God.

In the OPC we believe that the marks of the true church are the faithful preaching of the Word of God, the faithful administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and the faithful administration of church discipline. In all things the Scriptures are the rule of faith and practice. Those who are delinquent in doctrine or life are subject to the discipline of the church.

In adopting the Westminster Confession of Faith, the OPC has made a part of its constitution a document that was written in the crucible of the separation that occurred between the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and the Presbyterian and Reformed churches.

If you are familiar with the Westminster Confession, you already know what the OPC believes and confesses differently than the Roman Catholic Church. The differences are neither small nor few in number, but I could summarize a few things that we consider to be differences in essentials.

We might ask, can God bring reconciliation between the churches? Of course, he can; and we may certainly pray to that end, and we can be sure that there will be one perfectly united church in heaven. But it must be understood, as the Scriptures make plain, that true reconciliation can only be a reconciliation in the truth. Unity at the cost of the purity of God’s word is not real unity. As Jesus himself said, “The truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Or as the apostle Paul wrote,

Do not be bound together with unbelievers, for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate," says the Lord, "and do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me," says the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

I hope the answer has been helpful, although I suspect it might not be what you were hoping for.

About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.

At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those people who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.

While we will respond to every serious questioner, we are not bound to give a substantive answer to every question, should we deem the question to be beyond the scope of our purpose or our own ability to answer.

You will receive an answer by e-mail. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two (2) weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.

Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been edited—all personal references are removed, Scripture references or from some source may be added, and sometimes portions are expanded—to make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.

© 2020 The Orthodox Presbyterian Church



Chaplains and Military Personnel

Diaconal Ministries


Inter-Church Relations

Ministerial Care

Planned Giving

Short-Term Missions


Church Directory

Daily Devotional

Audio Sermons

Trinity Hymnal

Camps & Conferences

Gospel Tracts

Book Reviews



Presbyterian Guardian