Note: Not all churches using the name ‘Church of the First Born’ or ‘General Assembly’ are affiliated with this group.
Quick Facts on the General Assembly and Church of the First Born
- What: The General Assemblies and Church of the First Born is a small Pentecostal ‘denomination’ of sorts. It is a network of more than 100 churches in 20 US states.
- Names: Overall this group of churches is referred to as General Assemblies and Church of the First Born. Local congregations usually are called The General Assembly and Church of the First Born, but sometimes General Assembly Church of the First Born is used instead. A few of the churches are simply called, Church of the First Born.
A number of churches not affiliated with this denomination use similar names. Sometimes the church is referred to merely as COFB.
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The full name is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, in the Bible:But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of [a]angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
– Hebrews 12:22-24, NASB. Emphasis added.
- Do not confuse with: Church of the Firstborn and the General Assembly of Heaven, a cult of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
- Organization: There are no headquarters and there is no paid clergy. Elders oversee the local congregations.
- Membership: The church does not keep membership records, but the denomination was believed to have 6,000 members in 1976.
Legal paperwork filed by defense attorneys in 1996 for a church member accused in the faith healing death of his son stated that, at that time, the church had about 100 congregations nationwide, with between 16,000 to 20,000 members.
- Doctrine: Members reportedly can be saved by obedience to Biblical laws, and to four ‘ordinances of the gospel’:
- Faith in Jesus Christ
- Repentance from sin
- Baptism by immersion in water
- Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Spirit
Theologically the movement is considered to be a cult of Christianity.
- Controversy: The faith healing teachings and practices of this denomination are extreme and unbiblical — to the point where affiliated churches can be considered spiritually abusive, and where behavior of members is contrary to Christian orthopraxis.
These doctrines and practices have resulted in unnecessary deaths, followed by prosecutions of those involved.
In statements to the press church officials generally says that members can seek medical aid, but former members say that those who do so are considered ‘weak in faith’ (or even to have sinned against God by demonstrating a lack of faith), and tend to be shunned.
Critics familiar with the church have said that some members have been known to call a vet for a sick animal, while shunning proper medical care for sick family members.
Church of the First Born members do use first-aid, however, and hearing aids and glasses are used by church members because they are “like the crutches of the lame in the Bible. 1
- In November 2014, Travis and Wenona Rossiter were found guilty of manslaughter in the first and second degree in the death of their 12-year-old daugher. In December 2014 they were sentenced to 10 years in prison each.
- In June 2012 Gregory and Garnet Swezey agreed to accept a plea deal that spares them jail time but holds them responsible for death of their 17-year-old son.
- In September 2012, Russsel and Brandi Bellew were sentenced to probation in the death of their 16-year-old son.
News and News Archive
- Religion News Blog’s General Assemblies and Church of the First Born news archive. Note: some older news articles on the COFB are located in an older database.
- This is according to a memo filed by defense attorneys James Egan and Paul Kuebrich in a 1996 case against church member Loyd Hays of Brownsville, who was convicted of charges of criminally negligent homicide regarding the death of his 7-year-old son. Hays is the father of Wenona Rossiter, who — along with her husband, Travis — was convicted of manslaugther in the first and second degree in the death of their 12-year old daughter. ↩