For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 1 Corinthians 11:19 NASB
Factions – I’ve met some interesting people in my travels. Some of the most interesting are those who are really angry fundamentalists in Messianic clothing. They have usually come out of doctrinally strict hierarchical Protestant denominations. They found the ethos suffocating. Having discovered the depths of Hebraic thought, they cut ties to the prior rigidity and embrace a “new” way of living. But what they don’t do is leave behind the framework of their thinking. They merely substitute Hebrew words for Greek ones. The hierarchy of the pastor or priest is replaced by the hierarchy of the rabbi. The rituals of Protestantism are replaced by rituals of Judaism. They end up being just as rigid about the “truth” as they once were about doctrine. They are reformers in reverse, substituting one version of legalism with another.
And they’re angry. They’re angry that the “church” deluded them. They’re angry that their family and friends don’t see the path. They’re angry that they fell on the outside. They like to argue their points. They intend to win.
Perhaps it does us some good to remember Paul’s complement toward hairesis. Yes, that’s right, it’s the word Christianity uses for heresy. But when Paul employed this Greek word, it wasn’t a theological term for false doctrine. It didn’t become a theological technical term until after the close of the first century. When Paul used this Greek word, it simply meant “disputes.” In fact, the classical Greek background of the word means “to select, to choose or to elect” (this is its only use in the New Testament). Its equivalent in the LXX is the Hebrew nedavah, a free-will offering. This word is about choice, voluntary election of action. In Rabbinic Judaism it is the translation of miyn, the word describing something that shares common characteristics. Hairesis does not become a designation of forbidden doctrine until the Christian church began treading the path of separation from Judaism. “The basis of the Christian concept of [hairesis] is to be found in the new situation created by the introduction of the Christian [ekklesia],” says Schlier. But notice what this statement implies. It assumes that Christianity and the theology of Paul are identical, that the “church” was established at Pentecost and that Paul distinguishes his doctrine in opposition to the rabbinic Judaism of his past. Schlier’s position depends on the disjunction between later Christian understanding and the first century Messianic views of Paul.
But what if Paul just means “disputes”? What if all he is saying is that the community must have disputes, it must entertain the choices of others, in order that the approved ideas may be manifest? As I often tell my students, “You don’t need to tell me something I already know. Tell me something I don’t know so we can both learn.”
I believe Paul was a rabbi, and fundamental to rabbinic education is the process of debate. Dialogue is the vehicle of enlightenment. I believe that Messianic Judaism embraces the opportunity to disagree and to learn from each other with open hearts and open minds. Christianity as a religion closed its ranks with a new definition of hairesis, a definition that made anyone who disagreed with the Church an outcast, condemned to Hell. Christian doctrine is about conformity. You must believe exactly as I believe or you are outside the will of God. When we bring this same rigidity to contemporary Torah observance and Messianic allegiance, we do nothing but import a foreign philosophical system. The truth is not compromised because you and I disagree. It is only in our disagreement that we can both discover God’s point of view.
A man can learn anything if he is willing to be corrected.
Topical Index: hairesis, heresy, dispute, 1 Corinthians 11:19
 Heinrich Schlier, “hairesis,” in TDNT, Vol. 1, p. 183.