What is the essential task of the church?

The essential task of the church is:

enabling hearts to open

This may sound hopelessly, sentimental, inadequate or faintly lame, but it is based on certain underlying principles that give it a little more heft than might at first appear to be the case:

1. Human beings are created in the image of God:

God created humankind in his image,
   in the image of God he created them (Genesis 1:27)

2. To be created in the image of God, means we bear some likeness to God:

God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness (Genesis 1:26)

3. Love is the primary characteristic of God:

God is love. (I John 4:8)

4. If “God is love” and if we are made in the image and likeness of God, then love is our essential nature. When we love, we fulfill our true nature and realize the true purpose of religion:

love is the fulfilling of the law.(Romans 13:10)

5. Christian faith is fundamentally about love:

Jesus: You shall love… This is the greatest and first commandment. (Matthew 22:37,38)

now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:13)

Whoever does not love does not know God (I John 4:8)

6. In order to love, we must open to the gift of love; we must share the experience Jesus had at the moment of his baptism and experience ourselves as being loved:

a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1:11)

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (I John 4:16)

the fruit of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22)

7. The heart is the instrument through which life and love flow:

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
   for from it flow the springs of life.(Proverbs 4:23)

the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart. (I Timothy 1:5)

love one another deeply from the heart. (I Peter 1:22)

8. It is the heart that enables us to be conscious of the presence of God:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.(Matthew 5:8)

one believes with the heart and so is justified (Romans 10:10)

9. God is known in a soft, open and responsive heart:

do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
   as on the day of testing in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:8)

one who is hard-hearted will fall into calamity (Proverbs 28:14)

I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19)

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
   he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)

10. Therefore, the church’s fundamental task is to join God in the work of enabling hearts to open:

The Lord opened her heart (Acts 16:14)

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46)

Then looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’(Mark 7:34)

Then he opened their minds (nous – “capacity for spiritual truth”, “higher powers of the soul”) to understand the scriptures (Luke 24:45)

Love is the divine life force that dwells in the human heart. When we are resistant, hardened and closed, we lose touch with the reality of God’s presence. The journey back to an awareness of God’s presence and action in our lives lies through a soft, open, responsive heart.

The church exists to create an environment in which heart-opening is supported. The task of the church is:

enabling hearts to open