In studying the remarkable architecture of this house of worship, I immediately saw bold polished brass letters on a backboard on the front lawn which read: THIS IS NONE OTHER BUT THE HOUSE OF GOD, AND THIS IS THE GATE OF HEAVEN.
The architect, quoting Genesis 28:17, felt that these words of ancient Jacob belonged on this ultramodern edifice. Immediately my mind reconstructed the time and place of this notable statement of the patriarchal Jacob.
Sleeping alone under the stars with a stone for a pillow, he had just had the astounding dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder, and God had just finished talking with him.
Amazed that God would speak to him, Jacob said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.” He named the place Bethel.
For a church to be called the gate to heaven is most fitting, for within its walls souls of youths and adults are shaped for eternity.
In my childhood I knew a man who mocked the preacher, poked fun at church members, and led a life of dissipation. But one night that man went to church.
God gripped his heart, and the sinner yielded to the Savior. That worship service became a gateway to heaven for him because he died within a few weeks, testifying that all was well.
A house of worship should be a lighthouse to erring men, a Bethel where men meet God, a place where sinners become saints. Getting men saved is the primary purpose of the church.
A local church, around the altar of which sinners are constantly finding salvation and Christians are continually dedicating themselves in Christian service, is a church attending to the King’s business. Such a church is a gate to heaven.
Ian Maclaren said, “Christ is the bread for men’s souls. In Him the Church had enough to feed the whole world.”
The local church is the choice place to go when we err from Christ. Sometimes we need to repent.
Someone said, “To repent is to altar one’s way of looking at life; it is to take God’s point of view instead of one’s own.”
Many years after Bethel, Jacob needed to move closer to God. He told his household: “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel.”
[BETHEL means “house of God”] Jacob continued, “I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress ...” (Genesis 35:2, 3).
There is something mystical and ultimately beautiful about taking our sins to God’s house—if we repent.
Thomas Carlyle commented: “Of all acts of man, repentance is the most divine. The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.”
Speaking of coming together to worship, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “Come, let us go up . . . to the house of God. ... He will teach of us his ways so that we may walk in his paths ...” (2:3).
Jubilantly the psalmist exclaimed, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever . . .” (Psalm 100:4, 5).
Oh, the joy of going to God’s house! To have undiluted fellowship with the believers, to sing the songs of redemption, to commune with God as a congregation—this is next to heaven itself; then the gate of heaven is fully ajar.
Someday we, the believers, will walk through that gate into the eternal presence of God. At that time the joy, the thrill, and the holiness of an earthly worship service will be greatly amplified and will be ours to experience throughout the aeons.
But until that day we will keep going to church; we will not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but will be) exhorting one another: and so much the more, as . . . (we) see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
A man’s thoughts are never nobler than when he sits in God’s house. From there sin looks its dirtiest and any taint of wrong in his life looms before him as a black mountain.
Furthermore, pure thoughts flow more freely at church. While a mortal man, driven by a heavenly inspiration, imparts God’s truths from the pulpit, the listener, being able to think faster than the preacher forms words, searches out the intricate recesses of his soul as he is built upon in the most holy faith.
We have varied experiences in God’s house. Within its walls, we attend classes of biblical instruction and train our children from God’s Book.
We baptize believers, dedicate the children, and when they grow up they are married there.
When loved ones cross the bridge of death, we bring them to God’s house where His spoken Word comforts our broken hearts, telling us that we shall see them again.
The local church, then, with its sorrows, its joys and its guidance, is near the heartbeat of God. It is the gate to heaven.