After Herbert W. Armstrong's death in January 1986, John Ritenbaugh and his family, among many others, watched with growing concern as the administration of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) changed one doctrine after another. Some of the changes were indeed just clarifications, but others, like healing, Passover, the eternal salvation aspects of the born-again doctrine, the gospel, the nature of God, and our ultimate hope were very significant. No one doctrinal change justified leaving the organization, but the cumulative effect of a multitude of changes and the trajectory of the WCG were worthy of notice.
These concerns gradually intensified and changed to alarm when, in November 1991, the "future aspects" of the gospel were relegated to third place in importance. This means many things, of course, but some of the most obvious doctrines affected were the return of Jesus Christ, the establishment of the Kingdom of God, the resurrection of the dead, and the possible prophetic significance of news events. These were considered to be of lesser importance!
To protect their relationship with God and not to interfere with the direction the WCG appeared to be headed, the founding members of CGG (among whom were John and Evelyn Ritenbaugh, John and Dolores Reid, Martin and Susan Collins, and Richard and Beth Ritenbaugh) thought it was best to remove themselves from its fellowship. John Ritenbaugh resigned from the ministry and the WCG in early January 1992. He left, not in a rush of anger, but with an ever-deepening sense of sadness and loss. He had given almost 33 years of his life to it as a member, deacon, elder, and pastor.
Before leaving, the founding members consulted with several ministers of long experience in the church. They decided that the group should simply and quietly remove themselves from the WCG. They did not leave with the idea of starting another church, and none of them ever made any attempt to recruit others to join with them. In fact, John was thinking of going back into the welding business, which he had left to go to Ambassador College in 1968!
When word of what had happened began to spread, however, many people began calling and asking whether John would pastor them. After considering their request and ultimately deciding to do so, he immediately established a number of policies that he felt were essential to follow the pattern established by Herbert Armstrong when he left the Church of God, Seventh Day:
The new church would not attack the WCG or its leaders.
It would not proselytize the membership of other groups.
It would function as a place of refuge, where members could be fed and grow toward God's Kingdom.
It would not "ride Herbert Armstrong's coattails," as God's truth can and should stand on its own.
It would preach the truths the church had learned through Herbert Armstrong, the apostle God had used to reveal His way in our time.
These guidelines were designed to help people focus on God and His truth, not on their anger, frustration, or discouragement with a church, its headquarter's leadership, a local pastor, or offending lay members. Experience taught that the latter approach produces only bad fruit in the long run.
The organization that was formed, Church of the Great God, emphasizes "feeding the flock," though the ministry recognizes the responsibility of the church to preach the gospel to the world too. There are several reasons for choosing this course.
Those coming out of the WCG and those coming from some of the other splinter groups, including the ministry, have been badly damaged spiritually. Why would God want to bring people into yet another church that was also lacking His Spirit and love? Therefore, to restore people's relationship with God, feeding the flock became the top priority of the church.
The ministry sought to avoid being presumptuous by appointing themselves to do the preaching of the gospel to the world, suggesting that they are Herbert Armstrong's successors (Jeremiah 23:21-22). God is fully capable of letting His true ministers know when He wants them to do something in this area.
The pattern God shows in His Word is that He first prepares a person for a task, then He uses him according to His will. Even if He chooses not to use the CGG in a public way, the people and ministry have not lost by striving to overcome.
The most effective witness of all is a truly and deeply converted person, and that indeed is a Christian's primary goal, according to Matthew 6:33.
If God's people cannot learn to love each other, how will they ever love the world in a way that will glorify God as a witness? The state of the church today is not conducive to attracting and converting prospective members, and until that is corrected, God will probably not call very many out of the world.
Jesus says that no man can serve two masters. If John Ritenbaugh, as pastor of CGG under Christ—or any other person, for that matter—gives his full attention to preaching the gospel to the world, everything else will get less attention. Right now, preparing the brethren for God's Kingdom is the highest priority.
The church's ground rules and its emphasis on feeding the flock have almost guaranteed little numerical and financial growth. But CGG is growing, albeit slowly. It began on January 11, 1992, with about 20 people. Today, over 2,000 people are on our active mailing list, and about 400 attend services every week. Many others "listen in" to the Charlotte congregation's Sabbath service, which is streamed live each Saturday at 2:30 PM Eastern time.
In addition to John Ritenbaugh, three elders are fully committed to this work, serving about dozens of small groups scattered across the United States. CGG also has smaller groups in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the Philippines, South Africa, Trinidad, and Zambia. It also sponsors a number of Feast of Tabernacles sites: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Tobago; Hermanus, South Africa; Victoria Falls, Zambia; and one in the Philippines.
In 1992, the church leased offices in Charlotte, North Carolina, where John Ritenbaugh had been pastoring a WCG congregation. During the first half of 2005, a new, 5,250 square foot church office and meeting hall was built on five acres in nearby Fort Mill, South Carolina (1,750 square feet were added in the summer of 2007, completing the original 70 x 100 design). A permanent office building will help to stabilize the church's expenditures for facilities and reduce the labor and turmoil attendant with frequent moves to new office space.
CGG now employs three full-time elders (John Ritenbaugh, Richard Ritenbaugh, and Martin Collins), an information systems manager (David Grabbe), an editor/sound supervisor (Joseph Baity), an editorial/graphics assistant (Kristen Collins), two office assistants (Diane McIver and Susan Collins), and a sound technician (Josh McIver). Richard Ritenbaugh is managing editor of Forerunner and other church publications and websites. Martin Collins manages the office and oversees the church's business affairs.
Church of the Great God has unpaid elders and deacons serving in various areas of the world. Mark Schindler, an elder based out of Chicago, cares for the brethren in the northern tier of America's heartland and handles our email correspondence as well. In addition, many members give of their time and talents to serve the church's needs both locally, nationally, and internationally.
Early on, most of the church's growth resulted from its weekly audio tape program, which began immediately upon its founding. Now, each week, hundreds of sermon CDs are sent to subcribers around the globe, and many of these are copied and sent to others, greatly multiplying the church's efforts. Because CGG does not have congregations in many areas, some subscribers make use of CGG CDs while attending local services with other groups.
In July 1992, CGG began publishing a monthly newsletter called In Brief. . ., which was later expanded to 20 pages and renamed Forerunner: Preparing Christians for the Kingdom of God. The magazine is published six times a year and boasts a four-color cover. Its circulation is worldwide, as it goes into 35 different nations. In its electronic form, it is circulated to more than 77,800 people each month. Through the years, the church has published a number of full-length booklets, and several others are in various states of preparation.
In January 1998, CGG entered cyberspace with the publication of its web site, CGG.org, and in mid-2005 it received its second major upgrade. Soon thereafter, the church added the Sabbath website, an information site specifically designed to explain the seventh-day Sabbath, and in 2003, it launched Bible Tools, a site containing several Bible translations, commentaries (including Forerunner Commentary), and the bulk of CGG's published material. Taking passages from articles, sermons, and booklets, the Berean Daily Verse and Comment gives more than 147,500 email subscribers a bite-sized portion of biblical truth each day, in addition to providing a launching pad to begin an indepth Bible study on related subjects. Launched in 2006, the True Gospel website explains the gospel of the Kingdom of God through a short tour and related articles, booklets, and sermons. Finally, in 2008, a site concentrating on the Biblical Jesus was put on the Internet. A handful of additional websites are still on the drawing board.
The Internet provides the church a way to reach the world with the gospel of the Kingdom of God without a great outlay of money, a scarce resource for a small church. This venture has proved to be very successful, as it gives everyone ready access to CGG's entire literature and tape/CD libraries. The church has encoded all its past sermons in several audio formats for downloading or streaming, further expanding its ability to serve the scattered brethren of God's church. Many of these sermons have also been transcribed, and more transcripts are being added each month. Other projects are scheduled, as time and resources permit, to further enhance the church's outreach in preaching the gospel and feeding the flock.
Please contact us with any questions, suggestions, or comments about CGG. We would be happy to hear from you!