The Bible study group I belong to has been studying the New Testament book of II Corinthians, and one thing that really struck me about the book is the lessons it gives on authority.
In this book the Apostle Paul attempts (among other things) to persuade the Corinthians that he is a true apostle, and that the so-called "super apostles" that the people have fallen for are not.
Before telling you how Paul makes the point that he is legit, let me tell you how he does not make his point. It struck me that if the early church was organized in a heirarchical fashion, then the most obvious thing for Paul to do would have been to say something like this: "I was appointed by the official church leadership to be an apostle. Those fakes were not. End of discussion!"
But he doesn't do that. He explains and praises and argues and pleads and threatens and is ironic and urges the people to consider how he has lived among them. He knows they're upset that he didn't visit them as he had planned, so he tells his reasons; he knows the false apostles have sown seeds of doubt about his integrity, so he reminds them that he has never taken any money from them. But though he seems to use every tool available to him - much as a distraught parent might with a child - he never once cites any earthly authority, only God: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God."
Though not conclusive, this suggests to me that the early church was probably not organized in a thoroughly heirarchical fashion.
Also, Paul was collecting money for a church in great need (apparently the church in Jerusalem) and the churches in Greece/Macedonia appointed a man to accompany Paul to make sure the money was spent properly.
I am awestruck! The churches had that authority and the great apostle Paul was perfectly willing to be watched to make sure he didn't steal money. What a lesson in godly humility! And in light of this, how can any church or parachurch organization refuse to have regular audits or otherwise demonstrate to those who give that the money they receive is being properly used?