Ex-members of faith healing church say death surrounded them

Last week a Philadelphia judge ruled that a local couple who believes in faith healing over medical care must stand trial on murder charges in the death of their 7-month old son.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible were already on probation for the negligence death of another child four years ago

Herbert and Catherine Schaible
Last month they were charged with third degree murder, after a medical examiner determined that their son, Brandon Scott Schaible, died from bacterial pneumonia and dehydration after the Schaibles withheld medical care.

The Schaibles are members of the First Century Gospel Church, a controversial church in Philadelphia which teaches that “it is a definite sin to trust in medical help and pills” and claims that a person’s salvation depends on trusting God to heal without medical help or medicine.

Those heretical teachings violate the essential doctrines of the Christian faith regarding salvation — thus placing the church outside the boundaries of historic, biblical Christianity.

Pastor Nelson Clark of the First Century Gospel Church

Pastor Nelson Clark of the First Century Gospel Church

According to the Associated Press, the Schaibles’ pastor

Nelson Clark, has said the Schaibles lost their sons because of a “spiritual lack” in their lives and insisted they would not seek medical care even if another child appeared near death.

Cult of Christianity

Theologically First Century Gospel Church is a cult of Christianity. Sociologically, the church has cult-like elements as well.1

Indeed former members of the church refer to the church as a cult, pointing out that aside from not being allowed to seek out medical care and take medicines, followers also do not own property, purchase insurance, or go to college.


Ex-member Eric Blake refers to the church’s teachings as brainwashing.

“Just like any false teaching or any other cult, they cut you off from the outside world,” he explains.

Blake told the Philadelphia Inquirer that several of his family members in the church died because they refused to seek medical treatment for things such as measles. He noted that many of his other family members have since left the church.

Another former member, referred to only as Stephanie, recounts how difficult it was to turn her back on the church’s teachings after having been a member for 18 years.

[W]hat really dashed her beliefs, she said, is when her father died of an undiagnosed form of cancer and her mother suffered a fatal heart attack a month later.

“I was doing exactly what the church said. I repented of my sins, [got] rid of my worldly possessions, and when your loved one dies, there’s such a feeling of deception,” she said. “It makes you lose your trust in people and your trust in churches. The more I questioned things, the more [they] contradicted themselves.”

Murder, involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment and conspiracy

Meanwhile the Schaibles, who are being held without bail, each face a possible sentence of 40 years in prison if convicted of third-degree murder and 10 years for involuntary manslaughter.

They also face five to ten years in prison for violating the terms of their 10-year probation after they were convicted, in December 2010, of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment in the pneumonia death of their 2-year-old son, Kent.

On July 3 they will be formally arraigned on murder, involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment and conspiracy charges.

Their seven other children have been placed in foster care.

Last month First Century Gospel Church pastor Nelson Clark told The Inquirer the fact the the city placed the Schaibles’ children in foster care — in the home of non-believers — worries him.

To prevent that from happening again, Clark said, he is trying to reconcile the demands of the state with their own beliefs.

He said church teachings would allow a child welfare agency to arrange medical visits. This way, he explained, someone else could initiate the calls to a doctor.

Research resources on faith healing
Information about abusive churches & spiritual abuse


  1. Note the difference between theological and sociological definitions of the term ‘cult.’
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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday June 17, 2013.
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