80 Years Ago June 11: J. Gresham Machen Was Elected Moderator Of A New Presbyterian Denomination

On June 11, 1936, the Presbyterian Church of America (renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in February 1939) was founded, electing 55-year-old professor J. Gresham Machen as its first moderator.

And as Dr. Machen took the moderator’s chair, maintaining the dignity of that office even amidst the unpretentious surroundings, there was in his face and in the hearts of us all a mark of the solemnity of the occasion. We trusted that in the power of God we were entering upon a new phase of history, set for the defense of the gospel.

 

On June 11, 1936, the Presbyterian Church of America (renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in February 1939) was founded, electing 55-year-old professor J. Gresham Machen as its first moderator. Less than seven months later, Machen would die, but the denomination continues to bear gospel witness today. For a short history, see D.G. Hart and John Muether, Fighting the Good Fight: A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Philadelphia: Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1995).

On May 23, 1956, members of several Philadelphia OPC churches gathered in Glenside for an anniversary celebration. Robert Marsden—whose 17-year-old son George would grow up to become one of the most influential historians of American fundamentalism and evangelicalism—offered his reflections on the founding of this denomination for the defense of the gospel.

Here is an excerpt from his remarks:

Will the little meeting of less than 150 elders, ministers and laymen gathered that hot Thursday afternoon in the New Century Club of Philadelphia on June 11—will that little meeting go down in history with a permanent monument in the battle for the defense of the gospel?

It was a dramatic moment that afternoon. The auditorium was not crowded. But when the chairman got up to read the enabling act one could have heard a pin drop. As I look over the congregation tonight I see a number of you here who were there at that time. And we heard the chairman say:

In order to continue what we believe to be the true spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., which we hold to have been abandoned by the recent organization of that body, and to make clear to all the world that we have no connection with the organization bearing that name, we, a company of ministers and ruling elders, having been removed from that organization in contravention as we believe of its constitution, or having severed our connection with this organization, or hereby solemnly declaring that we do sever our connection with it, or coming as ministers or ruling elders of other ecclesiastical bodies holding the Reformed faith, do hereby associate ourselves together with all Christian people who do and will adhere to us, in a body to be known and styled as the Presbyterian Church of America. We, a company of ministers and ruling elders, do hereby in our own name, in the name of those who have adhered to us, and by the warrant and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, constitute ourselves a General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America.

And as Dr. Machen took the moderator’s chair, maintaining the dignity of that office even amidst the unpretentious surroundings, there was in his face and in the hearts of us all a mark of the solemnity of the occasion. We trusted that in the power of God we were entering upon a new phase of history, set for the defense of the gospel.

You can read the whole thing here.

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