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It’s hardly a breaking news story that the old mainline Protestant denominations are in trouble, both doctrinally and in membership numbers. It’s even less of a breaking story that a wide range of nondenominational churches¯or churches only loosely affiliated with a denomination¯have sprung up to fill the void the mainline once occupied across the nation.

But maybe it is generally unreported news that this same phenomenon can be observed even in Manhattan. Most of the nation seems to suppose that Protestant New York passed in a generation directly from the Easter Parade to atheism, with hardly a hiccup in between. But the nondenominational movement has taken hold here, as well. Even while many of the beautiful old churches are empty, you can find¯in college auditoriums, hotel ballrooms, and storerooms across the city¯plenty of the kind of packed Sunday services the rest of the nation knows.

A smart and observant friend has been church-visiting here in New York and has sent along these notes:

If you’re headed to Manhattan for vacation this summer and want to add some new-style Protestant worship to your touring (if for no other reason than to keep the kids awake and wired), here are just a handful I’ve come across in my travels through the city or on the Web. Please note: None of these churches actually meets in a traditional church building, so follow their directions carefully. In no particular order:

The Journey Church: On West 34th, a jaunt west of Herald Square, The Journey is definitely geared for the 18¯34 demographic. The word casual is employed often. Contemporary movies are used as a springboard for discussion of moral/ethical/existential issues.

Manhattan Christian Church: This congregation meets at a hotel on Lexington Avenue, not far from the Citicorp Center. Seems to have a robust menu of kids’ programs.

Times Square Church: Once a Broadway theater, now the home of Pastor David Wilkerson ( The Cross and the Switchblade ). Charismatic and premillennial (read: tongue-speaking and Rapture-ready), Times Square is also known for its exuberant CCM (contemporary Christian music).

Harvest Christian Fellowship : Harvest offers no order of worship at all, at least if its downloadable church bulletin is your guide. "We remain flexible and yielded to the leading of the Holy Spirit to direct our worship," and its Statement of Faith is perhaps the least didactic of any I’ve seen. Harvest is a Calvary Chapel ministry.

NYC Vineyard : Affiliated with the Vineyard movement , NYC Vineyard’s site links to a Wikipedia article that is frank about the controversies surrounding the movement’s founder, John Wilber. It is the only church of the bunch, however, that offers the Alpha course , originally developed in London’s Holy Trinity Brompton Church for spiritual seekers.

The Neighborhood Church: Unlike most congregational churches in the United States today, it is definitely conservative and orthodox, adhering to a strict Reformed theology. And unlike most conservative Calvinist churches, it is on Bleecker Street, not far from New York University in Greenwich Village.

For those more denominationally minded, there is, of course, Redeemer Presbyterian, a member of the Presbyterian Church of America, which normally supports about four to five thousand worshippers a Sunday at three different locations. It has affiliate churches throughout the tri-state area, including:

The Village Church: This congregation has a ton of extracurricular activities, with a focus on younger worshippers/seekers.

Christ Church NYC: An independent church in the evangelical Anglican tradition, Christ Church was started by an Australian pastor, John Mason, after receiving a call from Redeemer to begin a ministry in New York post¯September 11. Now at two different locations, with a more liturgically minded, traditional service in the morning and a more contemporary service in the evening, Christ Church is a warm and friendly congregation that is still small but growing. From personal experience, I can say that John Mason is also a gifted biblical exegete with a pastor’s heart (the two are not always found in the same package). So if smaller is better for you, visit Christ Church.

It’s worth noting that start-up and nondenominational churches can vary widely on the spectrum of theological orthodoxy. People sometimes assume that¯because they’re "evangelical," "charismatic," or "born again" fellowships¯they are generally orthodox in their fundamental doctrines. In fact, some of them can be very shaky on the Trinity, even falling into a contemporary version of Sabellianism¯the idea that there is only one God, and that Father, Son, and Spirit are but three different modes in which that God has revealed himself. The Nicene distinction of essence and persons is rejected as "unbiblical" because the language can’t be found in the New Testament (an argument made by the Arians of the fourth century). The quickest way to see if any one group is for you: Check the "values," "beliefs," and "links" pages on their websites. Don’t be surprised if the first two are remarkably concise, if not downright sparse. But the sites they’re linking to or the books they’re recommending would certainly be a keyhole into their theological universe.

In addition to which :

"The theocrats are coming!! The theocrats are coming!!" Paranoia and conspiracy theories about an emerging American theocracy from authors Kevin Phillips, James Rudin, Michelle Goldberg, and Randall Balmer are diagnosed by The Atlantic ‘s Ross Douthat in the newest edition of First Things . Historical revisionism is to blame for this hysteria, says Douthat. What American politics is experiencing is nothing more than a slow return to normalcy after 35 years of church/state confusion. Read the entire article by picking up a copy of the August/September double issue. Already a subscriber? Keep checking your mailbox. Not yet a subscriber? Click here to change that.

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