“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)
The Basket Case Chronicles #132
“For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11: 18-19).
Paul has already told us that Christian worship might be making things worse. He now gets to the reason. When the congregation gathers together as one, it becomes apparent that they are not one. There are divisions (schisms) among them, and Paul says that he partly believes it. This means that he thinks things are bad, but probably not quite as bad as he has heard. He partly believes it. He then says that it is necessary that there be heresies among them, in order to reveal who the good guys are.
This last comment—“who the good guys are”—can be read straight, or as a sarcastic shot at the faction leaders. In the former reading, the development of factions reveals to us which Christians are avoiding the sins of factionalism. In the latter reading, the development of factions is done so that the factionalists can demonstrate to everyone how wonderful—how “approved”—they must be. When you form the factional club yourself, the entry requirements can always be met.
The word heresy came later to be identified with foundational doctrinal error, but here it probably means that sectarian spirit that—in order to maintain the schism—comes up with weird doctrines in order to justify the split retroactively. In this sense, heresy in the later sense grows out of schism, and the need to be different. Jeroboam did not divide Israel for the sake of the golden calves at Dan and at Beersheba, but the idea occurred to him almost right away as a way of maintaining his new territory.
Paul views this as a matter of necessity. For we live in a fallen world, and it “must be” that this will happen. I have seen it happen over and over and over again. Whenever a congregation grows to a particular size, someone will develop an itch to distinguish himself, and he will have to cook up a reason (Acts 20:30). Sometimes an actual reason does exist, but whether a good reason is available or not, he will always be up to the challenge.