There are two groups of Christian churches in China: the Three Self Church, which is controlled by the state, and the independent house church, which is often called the “underground church.” The historic purpose of the Three Self Movement was a strategy in the 1950s to kick out all foreign missionaries and control all Christians. The strategy was very effective. In the 1970s, there was no visible church in China.
And yet, Christians kept their faith. In order to better control the underground movement of Christian believers and their growing numbers, the Three Self Church was reopened to the public. Many new churches were built and the unique symbol, a big red cross, became visible in many cities and villages. Due the nature of the government’s involvement in the Three Self Church, many believers refused to join and they started to meet in their own places. In some cities, they have more freedom to gather, but they are persecuted in many cities.
But both churches have one thing in common – they gather more and more people each week and they celebrate Christmas! People in China love Christmas, especially Christians. The incarnation is a symbol of freedom and a new beginning for them. On Christmas Eve, every church building is filled with people. In big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, even non-believers flood to the church. They want to visit churches to receive blessings. But getting into church buildings is not easy on Christmas Eve. They need to stay in a long line for three to four hours to have the chance to listen to a sermon, to pray, or to receive blessings in the name of Jesus Christ.
Many children and young people also join their parents and friends to go to church. For them, it is a new tradition. They have adopted western culture in things like McDonalds, Coke-Cola, KFC, and pop music, so surely they will not miss one of the most important elements in the western culture, Christianity. The cross and the beautiful church buildings are sacred things for them. Understanding Christianity and becoming a Christian makes them a citizen of the world. While the young generation enjoys the Christmas celebrations, the older generation of Christians always reminds them about the period of persecution and asks them to cherish the freedom to celebrate and to worship.
In general, Christmas has become one of the most celebrated festivals in China. While the general population celebrates it as a new Western festival, Chinese Christians happily proclaim the meaning of it and cherish it as an open door for expressing the freedom of their beliefs. Christmas is one of the most important days for Chinese Christians. They prepare many small gifts to give visitors, decorate church buildings, practice songs, and prepare special Christmas performances. Both the Three Self churches and house churches have a Christmas worship service on Christmas Eve. It is a special day for harvesting souls. Many visitors receive salvation during the Christmas worship service when they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The word “Immanuel” is becoming more popular each day in China due the growth of Chinese Christianity. It is even becoming a standard way to end the conversation among Christians and we hope that one day “Immanuel” instead of “see you again” will be the most popular farewell expression among Chinese people. Now everyone in China knows the meaning of the word “Christmas,” soon we hope everyone will understand the meaning of “Immanuel.”
“God is with us!” “God is with us today!” “God is with us in China!” “God is with us in my family!” “God is with us in my work place!” “God is with all the time and everywhere!”
The incarnation of Jesus Christ gives a new meaning to the world, a new way to the truth, and a new birth of spiritual life. Christmas speaks of the reality of Immanuel and the word contains so many meanings for today’s Chinese Christians. Though people tend to focus more on the blessings, God wants them to receive the blessing, Jesus Christ.
Dear Heavenly Father, we praise you for the growing number of Chinese Christians! We pray that you raise more gospel preachers and teachers in China. We pray that Chinese Christians will fully enjoy the current freedom of worship and freedom to share the gospel. We pray that the persecution will be over soon and the underground church will have public worship in all of China. In the name of Jesus, Amen!