The Stone-Campbell movement was rooted in an aversion to ecclesiastical authority. Early attempts at cooperation among congregations were associational in character, which limited their effectiveness in creating programs of scale and range. In the free-church tradition Disciples addressed the questions of organization in pragmatic rather than theological terms….
Discipledom made its most telling structural advance with the imaginative development of a convenantal Design rather than a formal constitution. Seeking fuller expression of the meaning of church, the theologically based Design provided a way for three manifestations – congregations, regions, and general units – to be voluntarily joined in a covenant binding them to one another and to God. The relationship of the three manifestations is one of interdependence, mutual sustenance, and mutual responsibility, with the integrity of each manifestation carefully protected. There is no pyramid of authority, no top or bottom. It is a design for one church, not three.
from A Handbook for Today’s Disciples in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 3rd edition by D. Duane Cummins, copyright 2003, pp 62-63.
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