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Spiritual Distancing

It may end up becoming the 2020 phrase of the year, as it has dominated our lives over these last months. You guessed it: social distancing. Maintaining a safe distance from others who may be virus-infected not only helps “flatten the curve,” but also is the safest and healthiest course for ourselves and our loved ones.
But what about spiritual distancing? If by that one means isolating oneself spiritually from one’s brothers and sisters in the faith and fellowship, then God clearly warns against such spiritual distancing (Hebrews 10: 24-25; Colossians 3:16). How blessed we are that our opportunities for true fellowship have continued in creative and flexible ways during this epidemic—through online worship and classes, pastoral and personal connections, and increased family altar ministries.
If, however, by “spiritual distancing” one means separating ourselves from sin and the evil of this world as sanctified (“set apart”) Christ-believers, then many are our God’s encouragements to practice such spiritual distancing (“Flee these things . . .” 1 Timothy 6:11; “Do not love the world . . .” 1 John 2:15; “Do not be unequally yoked . . .” 2 Corinthians 6:14).
One aspect of such spiritual distancing that is ignored by most churches (including many that are Lutheran) is the separation from error. When our God and Great Physician describes false teaching in any form, it is portrayed as a spiritual microbe or cancer (2 Timothy 2:17). Like COVID-19, spiritual error grows and spreads (Galatians 5:9), wreaking havoc until it leaves in its wake a path of spiritual lies, confusion and devastation. “Stay away from it!” is your Father’s wise counsel (Romans 16:17-18; Matthew 7:15).
Consider your feelings if, at the height of the pandemic, you had left the safe confines of your home and ventured out to some large, close-contact public gathering! Who among us would have taken that risk? How much safer we were at home! How much safer should we feel spiritually to have a church home where maintaining sound, healthy doctrine (including spiritual distancing) is a high priority—both for ourselves and for others.
As “social distancing” lingers, how thankful we all are for the closeness and fellowship of our earthly families and our spiritual families of faith! Both are gifts of God which, we hope, we will never take for granted. Most importantly, no matter what the nature or degree of our “social distancing” or even our proper “spiritual distancing,” we are not now and never will be isolated from the forgiving love, the supportive presence, or the faithful promises of our God. Never will He leave us or forsake us!
Both the COVID-19 virus and false teaching arise from the presence of sin with its capability of harming and bringing death—in the case of COVID, death to the body; in the case of false teaching, death to the soul. While we have not yet developed a vaccine for COVID (we pray it will be soon!), our Lord has created within us a spiritual immune system through His Holy Word that is both “living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12). The creation, protection, and preservation of our faith in His Son is of utmost concern to our Father, and He guarantees it. With the Apostle we profess confidently, “I know Whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard that which I have committed to Him until that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)
We listen to, value, and heed medical advice from respected doctors about social distancing. Would that our God and Father’s wise counsel on spiritual distancing were as listened to, valued, and heeded. How much safer and healthier would be our churches—and the faith of their members—if all would recognize and value God’s “spiritual distancing” plan.
David Schierenbeck is a retired pastor and a member of the CLC Board of Doctrine. He lives in St. Paul Park, Minnesota.