This is the last part of a three-part series, "Christmas Crowds in China." Editor
In years past I have marveled at the large numbers of people who flow through China’s churches every year at Christmas. I know of one urban church that hosts over 10,000 visitors during its six Christmas services. Each year I see the church building bursting at its seams, bodies crammed along every aisle and stairway. Each year I watch as the area around the church is closed to traffic and swarmed by young people eager to catch a glimpse or hear a word of Christmas—compelled by a sense that Christmas must in some ways must be connected to the church.
Perhaps this year there was more interest in apples than church. Maybe. But I saw a new crowd this year, one even more exciting than the masses gathered outside the church gate.
Every Christmas service I have attended in China has involved an evangelistic call. Most frequently, the pastor will make an offer of salvation and lead people in a public prayer of faith. Sometimes people are asked to raise their hands to receive information. Sometimes they are asked to speak to a deacon or deaconess after the service. Sometimes they are encouraged to stop by the “seeker’s corner” [谈道室] and speak to a church evangelist who can answer their questions. But this year the pastor invited people to come up on stage if they wanted to become a Christian.
At first no one stirred. I thought it unlikely that people would be willing to so suddenly make such a public identification. Besides, I did not sense any special “unction” in the message the pastor had delivered. If anything, it had been too long, and the crowd seemed to be paying only scant attention. But the pastor kept speaking, kept inviting, and after a few minutes somebody got up. And then someone else climbed up on stage. And before long the platform was mobbed with people ready to make their first affirmation of faith.
This crowd, of course, is the most exciting crowd! This rush of new believers—I only witnessed one of this church’s six services—was not an isolated incident (see, for example, this article from China Christian Daily). Moreover, this crowd represents the future of the church in China, and it represents the true gift of Christmas. This last crowd is also proof of God’s faithfulness, and it fills me with great hope for the future of both China and her church.
Notice also that the crowd of believers on the stage places the first two crowds (security forces and apples) in their proper context. No matter how many people are arrayed against the church (crowd number one), no matter how powerfully the culture pulls away from the church (crowd number two), the church is now able to engage the culture on its own terms (also crowd number two) in this battle that the church is already winning (crowd number three). Though threatened by the arm of the state and the subtle seductions of the surrounding culture, the gospel of Jesus continues to be the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes—in China as in the rest of the world. 以马内利! Immanuel!