The OPC Turns 75 at its 2011 General Assembly

Rev. John P. Galbraith, 98, a student of J. Gresham Machen who was ordained in 1937….delivered a stirring reminder to the Assembly that the OPC was a sin-stained communion to whom God has been good. He urged ongoing fidelity to the “two pillars” of its founders: that the Bible was the Word of God and that it was to be obeyed.

The 78th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church had the feel of a large family reunion, aided by a gorgeous venue. The Sandy Cove Conference Center in North East, Maryland, on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, attracted many members and friends of the church to enjoy with commissioners the special presentations and lavish displays that captured the story of the denomination as it marked its 75th anniversary.

Danny E. Olinger, General Secretary for the Committee on Christian Education, was elected moderator of the Assembly. He interjected several historical reflections at appropriate times during the Assembly, including the introduction of a special guest, the Rev. John P. Galbraith, a student of J. Gresham Machen who was ordained in 1937. The 98-year-old had lost little of his rhetorical skills. Galbraith delivered a stirring reminder to the Assembly that the OPC was a sin-stained communion to whom God has been good. He urged ongoing fidelity to the “two pillars” of its founders: that the Bible was the Word of God and that it was to be obeyed.

The actual anniversary date (Saturday, June 11) was largely devoted to family-friendly outdoor activities. It was capped off with a banquet that featured an address, by the Rev. Donald M. Poundstone, longtime minister of the church, on the OPC as “A witness to the Truth and the Heavenly Kingdom,” based on John 18:36-37.

Interestingly, ecumenical moments in the OPC have tended to cluster around its anniversaries. In 1956, the twenty-year old church established a Committee to Confer with Representatives of the Christian Reformed Church. That conversation lasted fifteen years, and at the 25th anniversary of the church the committee produced a document, primarily authored by John Murray, on “The Biblical Basis for Ecumenical Union.” This paper, eventually incorporated into Murray’s Collected Writings, has shaped the church’s understanding of its “ecumenical mandate.”

In 1986 the semi-centennial of the OPC coincided with a narrowly failed vote to unite with the PCA via the process of “Joining and Receiving.” Many observers claim that the 50th anniversary reflections on the heritage and identity of the OPC dissuaded some commissioners from voting for union.

This year witnessed another potentially significant ecumenical step, as the Assembly approved the Committee on Christian Education’s work on a Psalter hymnal to proceed in collaboration with the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA). Time will tell whether this joint project might serve toward knitting more closely together these two denominations.

In order to accommodate several anniversary-related events, the agenda of the Assembly had to be fit into a much shorter span of time. Even so, the Assembly found it possible to complete its work nearly a full day before its scheduled adjournment. The uncharacteristic absence of extended debate was more than some seasoned commissioners could bear. It finally prompted a tongue-in-cheek “protest” from Ruling Elder James Gidley, which read in part:

I am protesting the fact that this Assembly has done nothing even remotely worthy of being protested. The quiescent lassitude of this Assembly is a scandal and an outrage, completely out of keeping with the rich heritage of our forefathers. One is ready to conclude that if Machen had warrior children, he is now dubiously blessed with wimpy grandchildren.

John Muether is a Ruling Elder at the Reformation Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Oviedo, FL. He has served since 1989 as Library Director of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. He is a long-time trustee of Great Commission Publications. This article was written expecially for The Aquila Report

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