It’s true, of course, that a heresy could be created by someone pushing a false teaching on a local assembly, causing it to divide. Peter alludes to this when he warns that false teachers will secretly come into the church and introduce damnable hairesis (2 Peter 2:1).

To understand this verse, it’s important to remember our earlier point that hairesis refers not to the rightness or wrongness of a belief, but to a choice that leads to a division or the formation of a sect.

This is what false teachers are going to introduce into the body of Christ, according to Peter, and they will divide the body. This is why he says they are “damnable.” Again, division is a very serious thing to God.

In fact, this meaning is confirmed in the very next verse when Peter warns that "[m]any will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute."

Into HeavenIf these false teachers had not introduced a choice into these congregations that led to divisions, they would still be false teachers, but they would not be heretics, according to the New Testament definition of the term.
 
In this light, we may say that a person who embraces a doctrine that we believe is false is misinformed (at best) or deceived (at worst). We may even consider them to be a potential heretic. But unless they use their belief to divide a body of believers by causing others to follow them and their false doctrine, they do not fit the biblical definition of a heretic.

So, if we wish to be biblical in our use of the word “heresy” or “heretical,” we should not refer to them as “heretics.”

On the other hand, it’s evident from the biblical understanding of “heresy” that a person could be a heretic who wasn’t espousing a doctrine of any sort. Anyone who divides an authentic church for any reason would qualify as a “heretic,” according to the New Testament.

Peddling a Truth Heretically - As we mentioned earlier, a heretic could even be someone who espouses something good, but who does so in a divisive way.*  For example, suppose that a new church is planted. There is unity among the members. Their single focus is Jesus Christ. They are busy pursuing, knowing, loving, and serving Him together.

One day, Bob -- a member of the church -- announces, "I just discovered something I had never seen before. God's really loves the poor. And He wants us to help the poor more than we already are." Serving the poor was one of the ways this congregation served their community, but Bob, with his new found passion, wanted the church to be about little else.

Now, there's obviously nothing wrong with what Bob has said. And if Bob had submitted his insight to the community for prayerful discernment and given people time to grow into it, it might be that God could have used him to help this new congregation assign a higher priority to this ministry.

Unfortunately, this is not what Bob does. He grows frustrated that the community as a whole isn’t catching his passion quick enough, so he begins to frequently invite to dinner the dozen or so in the church who seem more “on board” with his passion.

Caught in a snare of self-righteousness, he begins to use these times to sow seeds of judgment among his guests toward those in the congregation who “don’t get it.”

Before long, Bob announces that he and his recruits are leaving the church to start a new one that will reflect God’s heart for the poor, according to Bob’s standards. And he encourages others to join them.

Bob has just created a church split. He thus qualifies as a “heretic” in the  New Testament sense of the word. Yet he is a heretic with the truth. Bob used a biblical truth in a fleshly way. He wielded it to create division among God's people.**

Heresy Later in Church History - Later in church history, most of the heretics -- those who were dividing God's people -- were peddling a false teaching. And so the word "heretic" came to be associated with false doctrine, very often doctrines that distorted the person of Jesus Christ.

But even in such cases, the label of “heresy” was only applied to people who not only denied the foundational doctrines of orthodoxy, but who actively worked against them.

Traditionally, the Ecumenical Creeds (Nicene, Apostles, Chalcedon) defined the parameters of orthodoxy, and therefore, they defined the parameters of  heresy.

In this light, we submit that the word “heretic” should be applied only to people who work against the historic orthodox church as expressed by these creeds. Interestingly enough, however, these creeds say nothing about the many topics over which Christians today liberally drop the H-bomb on their fellow sisters and brothers in Christ.