New and Old Covenant
It is important to recognize that Gods order under the Old Covenant is different from the New. Under the Old Covenant God's people were not born again of the Spirit and so were unable to be led by the Holy Spirit. God spoke and communed with His people Israel, through the Prophets, Kings and Priests. Gods Old order mirrored that of the world in that it was a hierarchical structure with men as 'leaders.'
However, under the New Covenant God's order changed! No longer were there to be priests standing between God and man, for all believers are now priests, (1 Pet. 2:9). Under the New Covenant there is is only one King, our one and only Master, the Lord Jesus. 'WE ARE ALL BROTHERS,' (Matt. 23:8).
In Numbers 16 we read where Korah rebelled against the Old order complaining that Moses and Aaron had exalted themselves above the assembly, but this hierarchical order was ordained by God for that time. The rebellion was in challenging God's correct order. Now God's New Covenant order is the exact opposite. His correct order is that we should all be on the same level. Jude warns "Woe to us if we are found in like rebellion to Korah," (Jude 11). He does not mean we should acknowledge leaders, but that we should ensure God's correct order is maintained.
Hierarchy or Not?
To be part of a hierarchical system is not in itself wrong. Within the world, in which the Lord has placed us with the proviso that 'we are in it but not of it,' we are part of hierarchical world structures and are exhorted to submit to these authorities, (Rom. 13) However, when it comes to the Church, Jesus said that 'the rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them and great men exercise authority over them but IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU, but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,' (Matt. 20:25 & 26). There should be no exercise of authority through position within the Church.
Jesus tells us 'not to be called Rabbi, for One is your Teacher and you are ALL BROTHERS.' Jesus said, 'Do not call anyone on earth father, for One is your Father who is in heaven, and DO NOT BE CALLED LEADERS, FOR One is your LEADER, even Christ; whoever exalts himself shall be humbled and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted, (Matt. 23:8-12). (It should be noted that the King James Version of the Bible wrongly translates this passage making it lose its meaning and significance).
So we see that we are all brothers, part of the church of Jesus Christ, which has no hierarchical structure and where no authority flows down from one man (lord) to another, yet this is contrary to the majority of the church government structures that we observe in the denominations which ensure that Jesus is not effectively Head of these structures. Although those who belong to men's structures may say He is their Head, He can only effectively be so to those who are led by the Spirit.
Those who see themselves as leaders tend not to recognize the effect of this error for they are themselves mostly free from the authority of men above them. Much teaching in recent years has reinforced the error that if you do not submit to the 'authority' of those above you, you are in rebellion. It is this error which keeps the church in chains. The members of the body of Christ are thus kept from being led by the Holy Spirit and unable to discern spirits of error and so are open to deception. This deception is increasing now as the time of the Lords return draws near.
What does Scripture say?
In the New Testament the word 'leader,' which is 'hodegos' in Greek, meaning 'guide', is only used of blind leaders of the blind in Matt. 15:14 & Matt. 23:16! The Greek word 'kathegetes' rendered 'master' or 'leader' also means guide and is used in Matt. 23:10 where Jesus tells us not to be one!
Those who endeavor to defend the present church system often quote from the letter to the Hebrews where the Greek word 'Hegeomai' , meaning 'to lead' is found, but is rendered 'to rule' in the King James Version, (Heb. 13:7, 17 & 24). In Hebrews 13:7 we are told to imitate the faith of the one 'leading us' which in the King James Version is rendered 'the ones who have rule over you'!
We easily misunderstand the place of brethren going before, or leading us, for we should not do what they say, as one would take commands from one with authority over us, but rather 'imitate,' for they are only leading the way, being under authority of their King as we should be. In Heb. 13:17, the writer of the letter tells us to 'obey' - 'the ones leading you' (hegeomai) and submit to them for they watch on behalf of your souls. Again the King James Version of the Bible says that we are to 'obey them that have rule over us' reinforcing the idea of submission to those who have an authority over us. However the word 'obey' in Greek is 'peitho' and means 'to persuade' , and the obedience suggested is not by submission to authority but resulting from this persuasion. (Vine Dictionary of Bible Words).
Those brothers who are more mature and leading us in the race are to watch over the souls of these less mature but should never be related to their brethren in such a manner as to take the place of Jesus in their lives or exercise any rule or authority by virtue of a 'position' which they actually do not have. In Heb. 13:24 of the King James Version of the Bible it tells us to 'salute all men that have rule over you,' which takes the adjective 'hegeomai' meaning 'the ones leading you' and calls them by the noun 'leaders' , contrary to the teaching of Jesus. Much error comes from translating adjectives (function) as nouns (position).
Lastly we find the Greek word 'proistemi' meaning 'to stand before' or 'preside' which is also rendered 'to rule' in the King James Version of the scripture in Rom. 12:8. Again this is an adjective and describes those brethren who are 'leading or in front.' This may be leading in general or leading for a particular meeting or gathering. For there to be God's order in any meeting it is right that we have one brother 'preside' , not to effect control, but to ensure the headship of the Lord, who works through men, is maintained, and to ensure Satan is kept from spoiling the meeting. This is the function of elders who are not over the flock but among the flock and who guide the flock, (proistemi in Greek = guide in 1 Tim. 5:17), not as a permanent 'position' but as an ongoing 'function' whenever it is needed. This does not place the elder 'over' the flock. Indeed Elders are to ensure Jesus is rightfully over each and every believer, encouraging, teaching and exhorting their fellow brothers to be hearing the Lord for themselves that the corporate local body be led by the Spirit. This function is very different to the one assumed by 'elders' in the hierarchical church structures found in the denominations. It is time to recover the correct functioning of elders within the church. This isn't easy for many would rather follow men than learn how the Lord speaks to us personally and be led by Him.
Each structure, by it's very nature, takes a name for itself, which is what the word 'denomination' actually means. The only name which should be over the true Church is 'Jesus Christ', for we are the Church of Jesus Christ. Whilst we can describe a group of particular believers as the church at 'a particular town', or the church that meets at 'someone's house', this is only descriptive and not their name. The church that meets at John's house, is therefore not 'John's Church' but that part of the body that meets at John's house.
By naming themselves, groups of believers have placed a name other than Jesus over themselves and effectively removed Jesus from His rightful Headship, for all 'named groups' have 'leaders' who by having a 'position' become head.
When God moved by His Spirit in the early 1900's amongst believers gathering at an old barn in Azusa Street in Los Angeles, the Lord told an eyewitness, Frank Bartleman, that 'they were going to organize' and effectively take the move of God from Him. This happened when they placed a name over the door, 'Azusa Street Mission'. The Holy Spirit moved that day to another location! Frank Bartleman's understanding was that God did not want a 'party' spirit. What God wanted was a channel through whom He would evangelize the world, a thing He cannot accomplish with a 'sectarian party' . 'God's people must be free from hierarchism' , is what he wrote of that occasion.
To effectively become part of a denomination one becomes a 'member' of it, necessitating some commitment or allegiance to the 'named group', and agreement to submit to the authority of a recognized leadership of men over oneself. When we are 'born again' we are baptized by the Spirit into Jesus body becoming members of His body, which is the church. This is the 'one baptism' referred to in Eph. 4:5. ('By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,' 1 Cor. 12:13).
We, who are born again, are therefore already members of one another, commanded to love one another as Jesus loves us. (His love for us led Him to die for us). A commitment beyond this is not scriptural. Indeed to 'promise' to be committed to any particular group brings a binding effect. Making a promise is described by Jesus as 'evil' in Matt. 5:37. 'Let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; and anything beyond this is evil," is what Jesus taught, (see also James 5:12). We need to repent of these things and renounce such commitments in Jesus Name, seeking forgiveness that He might restore us in this 'end time' hour, for joining our groups has separated us from the rest of the true body, for there is only one Church.