Antioch Christian Fellowship is an intimate family of folks, who have been transformed by and can bear witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ. Each of us at Antioch has had our own prior “humpty-dumpty” lifestyle – where all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put any of us back together again! But Jesus did, and He still does it! And we ain’t talkin’ about the Jesus who demands you wear a suit and tie, the Jesus who pushes preachers to beg for our money, or the Jesus who was just a prophet or some great man, nor the Jesus who was just some miracle-worker who got “weak” for Mary Magdalene. No, we’re talking about….THE REAL JESUS, God manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16) – the ONLY Jesus who heaven knows and hell fears.
Our emphasis at Antioch is true love (minus the facades and religious games), and the teaching of God’s Word in a clear and easy-to-understand way. From the college campuses to the housing projects, we take very seriously our Lord’s commandment to share His unfailing and life-changing “Good News.” Therefore, we believe in taking our ministry, “to the streets” – with free city-wide basketball tournaments, park festivals, food drives, and just plain ol’ greeting somebody on these cold streets with some warm words of hope. Won’t you come join us? Come just as you are… Dress is comfortable. And if you don’t have a Bible, we’ll give you one when you get here. Hope to see you soon!
Antioch Christian Fellowship began first as an intimate Bible study in the pastor’s home. With only three people and his wife on a wintry Thursday night, coffee mugs in hands, the pastor lead the group in prayer as they asked for God’s guidance. Then as the small group looked up at each other and smiled, the pastor opened to the book of Romans, and began teaching verse-by-verse.
The pastor’s home quickly became a spiritual hospital, and it wasn’t long before there was barely any standing room. Saints were getting equipped, souls were getting saved, and the entire room was falling more in love with Jesus Christ as Lord and friend. The brand new green rug had become blackened by all the traffic, but nobody cared.
Attracting people from all walks of life, the Lord had made it special place indeed. Homeless people and drug addicts were welcomed and responded with big smiles, not feeling the least bit self-conscious. An ex-prostitute with AIDS was proud to stand and share her testimony. Even Muslims came through in full dress, curious to see what was happening. Jesus Christ the King was happening, and it was marvelous in our sight!
And though every Thursday was different, every Thursday was also beautifully predictable: love and hugs, singing, praying, intently studying God’s Word, and then everyone eating together afterwards. But even as this cloud, “about the size of a man’s hand,” was growing, nobody could’ve guessed back then all that God was up to.
After some months, the Bible study moved to the second floor of a neighborhood thrift store-The Second Mile Center. This humble location would be just the right place; it was our “upper room” just like in the Book of Acts. We continued to gather every Thursday night, and the crowds came and the crowds went. On one Thursday evening, only two people were present, and we just took it as a great opportunity to pray for the community. We believed God was testing us, and teaching us a mandatory lesson: In a day where so many covet “large” churches and larger buildings, were we content to dwell just as we were? Could we still enjoy Jesus just the same no matter what?
We continued to meet, and we continued to grow-but the Lord was teaching us to be more concerned with quality than quantity. However, the desire to see University City and West Philly impacted by this thrice holy and loving Lord was intensifying in our hearts, and we knew that God was the one putting that burden there.
After the pastor and his cousin had welded together a home-made fish fryer out of scrap metal and an old mattress frame, “Antioch,” as we were now called from our study of Acts 11, finally began putting legs on our faith and hitting the streets. On any given Saturday, we could now be found on the corner of 45th and Baltimore Avenue, frying fish right on the street corner with iced tea, ketchup, tartar sauce, and all.
People were speechless and all-smiles, as we let them choose between wheat and white bread for their sandwiches. “Why are you guys doing this? Nobody does anything for free!” And they were right, only Jesus would do something like this. And it was definitely Christ in us doing the work, and we were sure to give Him all the glory.
With only five to ten of us out there and sweating under the sun, people waited in lines extending all the way down the sidewalk, even waiting for thirty minutes and more. Traffic would slow to a standstill as drivers cruised by trying to see what was going on and reading the large pieces of plywood that we had spray-painted in red with “John 3:16.” And whenever someone wanted to receive Christ into their hearts, we’d bow our heads and pray with them right on the spot.
Antioch continued to pray, and God continued to answer and glorify His name. We were soon hosting large-scale carnivals in local parks and even free basketball tournaments to attract the youth and young adults. Soon, after West Philadelphia High School granted the pastor permission to start hosting the basketball tournaments at their facilities, “The Backboard Explosion,” as it was called, quickly became one of the largest one-day basketball tournaments in the entire city. Attracting NBA prospects, NCAA players, AND1 referees, and the smoothest of local “playground legends,” the gymnasium was packed with people. And at the end of the event, everyone there had heard that Jesus Christ was the sole reason. Even the police had to attest to that, because there was never a single fight!
And while everyone at Antioch still attended their different churches for Sunday worship, many were starting to call Antioch their church. By this point, however, the pastor had determined that if all God had in store for Antioch was for it to remain a “Thursday fellowship,” that that was more than enough: We were just going to seek to be the most aggressive-loving, Christ-glorifying Bible study in the city!
But soon God spoke, confirming that it was time to go to Sundays. So on a rainy summer Sunday morning, three years ago, Antioch had its first Sunday service, with thirty smiling faces encouraging the apparently-nervous pastor on this major first step. But with more prayer and more big steps, Antioch of Calvary Chapel exploded in the twinkling of an eye. Within a year’s time, there were over a hundred people-from the colleges to the housing projects. And it kept growing, people adoring the love in the place, the way God’s grace was reigning in the place, and pastor Aaron’s down-to-earth and transparent teaching style. Ultimately, people were adoring God’s Word and His work.
Now Antioch Christian Fellowship has the honor of hosting hundreds of hearts every Sunday–precious hearts that Jesus Christ shed His very own blood for, tasted death for, and rose again for. And our desire is still the same as it was back on that first wintry Thursday night, back in the pastor’s living room- “to know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10).
Some of us who were around from the early days, sometimes look at each other with a smile and say, “if the Lord should decide to stop all of this tomorrow, it’s been an honor to even do this much for Him!”
And by God’s grace, we don’t plan to stop until He returns.
Antioch was a flourishing city of the 1st Century, then the 3rd largest in the world. With booming trade economy, it was a place for all classes of people, from every land – from the intellectual elite to crazed criminals. It was called “Antioch the Beautiful.” And as Beautiful as it was, with its magnificent buildings and lamp-lighted streets, it was also the most profane city of the Greeks and Romans.
The Antiochians were know for using their wit to coin lasting nicknames; they were the ones who first started calling the followers of Jesus “Christians” (Acts 11:26). And as Paul began preaching the word of God in this dark city, “a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). Revival had come. As a church was born, Antioch became the missionary headquarters for Paul as he ventured into the rest of the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today, in 2006 we here in University City, West Philadelphia, want to follow this example – as we labor with the Lord in this “Modern Antioch”.