Only “Orthodox” Would Do

It’s interesting that the original name for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was actually the Presbyterian Church of America. Don’t confuse that with the denomination of today, the Presbyterian Church in America. The latter denomination would not arrive on the scene until the 1970s. The former was getting underway in the early 1930s.

But the new denomination, and the new name wasn’t to be. The former denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA, took the new denomination to court, saying that the name was too similar to the old name. The court agreed and the first PCA had to change their name.

They tossed around many names: The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (which now exists), The Presbyterian and Reformed Church of America, The North American Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church of Christ, the Protestant Presbyterian Church of America, and the Free Presbyterian Church of America.

But none of those would do. Hart and Muether write the following:

“In 1939, the commissioners chose ‘The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.’ The decision was fitting for it reflected the church’s theological and ecclesiastical commitments.

“In fact, Machen himself as early as 1935 chose the term ‘orthodox’ as the proper adjective for describing the movement in which he played such a vital part. ‘Fundamentalism,’ he wrote, was inadequate because it failed to do justice to the great heritage of Augustine, Calvin, and the Westminster Confession. ‘Conservative’ was unsatisfactory because it gave the impression of ‘holding desperately to something that is old merely because it is old.’ ‘Evangelical’ was not sufficiently clear; it did not designate those who held specifically to the Westminster Standards.

But ‘Orthodox’ was fitting because the word ‘orthodox’ meant ‘straight doxy,’ or correct thinking. To see whether a doctrine was ‘straight’ it had to be compared against the ‘plumb line’ of the Bible. As Machen argued and as the division of 1937 revealed, the rule for the OPC’s ‘straight dox’ was the Word of God.”

Taken from D.G. Hart and John Muether’s Fighting the Good Fight: A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

I love the story, the reason for the name, and the way the they defined it. Being orthodox means that one is always using the plumb line of the Bible to determine one’s beliefs. This is very helpful.