BOOK REVIEW: The Sabbath Complete
And the Ascendancy of First-Day Worship
Californian Dentist Produces an Outstanding Book
(A book review of The Sabbath Complete And the Ascendancy of First-Day Worship, by Terrence D. O' Hare, published in Eugene, Oregon, by Wipf and Stock; 2011. A paperback of 394 pages. ISBN: 13:978-1-60899-257-7)
T errence D. O'Hare, a dentist from Lemoore, California, has produced a most outstanding book. This author has studied the Lord's Day/Sabbath controversy for over a decade and has now come up with a fine book of just under 400 pages which looks at most facets of this topic, putting many details under his theological microscope. One's only surprise is that this man, as far as one knows, does not have in-depth theological training but simply took a decade out of his life in order to undertake a comprehensive study of this subject. The resulting book just goes to show how a sincere and careful researcher can focus on a particular topic and produce results which would put many a theologian to shame.
The book is divided into twelve chapters which go through the Sabbath question in a truly painstaking manner, starting off with the Creation account; for example, when God rested on the seventh day of Creation week, was that really a sabbath? Then he moves on to take a detailed look at the sabbath as the fourth point of the decalogue, as delivered to the Israelites, and, on from there, eventually into the New Testament. The chapters are always pretty thorough though possibly just a little overly-wordy at times.
'The Sabbath in Church History' (chapter ten) is especially helpful and illuminating though this is such a big area - all on its own - that another 50-60 pages could easily have been added here, such is the available material; but one must, of course, make judgments of selection regarding which pieces of information from church history are the most relevant; a very tricky enterprise, I know, because I myself have done the same thing on this very subject in the past. Ultimately only a little can be included and here I would have extended things (this could have been facilitated without making the overall book much larger because 30-40 pages could, in my opinion, have been shaved elsewhere). Nevertheless O'Hare makes a pretty decent fist of this overall and I must not be too critical.
Perhaps before proceeding any further I should tie my own colours to the mast, as it were. For myself, I firmly support the overall point which the author is making, that is, I believe that Jesus Christ entirely fulfilled the meaning of the sabbath day, that is, not only the seventh day of the week but also all the various feast sabbaths. Moreover, I firmly believe that it is a legalistic error to view The Lord's Day as the new "Christian sabbath," and to do so opens the door to all sorts of judgmental and legalistic errors. Of course, I know that many who, somewhat carelessly, use the term "Christian sabbath" know full well that this day should not be kept as a 'sabbath' in the Mosaic sense, nevertheless a wise pastor perhaps should, just occasionally, warn about the use of the term. As O'Hare writes,
Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. His perfect obedience to moral laws is the source of imputed righteousness to believers. His work of redemption - His incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection - is the fulfillment of all shadow laws, even though some of them are yet to be manifested in their entirety. He calls the things that are not as though they are. When Christ completed the work of redemption, all the calendar festivals of Israel, including the Sabbath, were fulfilled. (p. 311).
Mr O'Hare's primary targets here appear to be the first-day Sabbatarians of the reformed (Calvinist) movement so I have to presume that that is his own background. My own original background, of course, is the seventh-day Sabbatarians (though my own experience among them seems light-years away now). Like the author (one presumes), in the past I have sometimes witnessed the most amazing inconsistencies and contradictions among seventh-day people who claim to "keep the sabbath." The Old Testament makes it pretty plain how one - who claims to be a sabbath-keeper - should behave on the seventh day and it dawned on me one day (that is, in my dim and distant past), that none of us kept it correctly with an unbelievable array of inconsistencies, contradictions and double standards, with the 'ministers' often being the worst offenders! I eventually came to the conclusion that probably only certain Jews from a highly Judaistic background could ever properly keep the sabbath and even then there would be problems. I wanted our old group to move away from its legalism, including admitting that Sabbath-keeping was now just about impossible and for us to state we were not "sabbath-keeping" (since we plainly were not), but just giving a 'deeply respectful nod' to 'the church in the wilderness,' and choosing this day to assemble, at least for the present (but I was already eyeing the First Day as an ideal next step forward). So I already knew by then that the Sabbath was entirely fulfilled in Christ. So I had come to see not only that Gentiles were never expected to keep the Sabbath (Acts 15), but more importantly that Christ's sacrifice has now fulfilled all the old covenant sabbaths. In fairness, my old 'seventh-dayers' group did indeed start to move away from its ingrained legalism (though not, I think, because of anything which I said or did). I could quote so much more here but I will not digress any further because I want to review Mr O'Hare's very fine book here, not to rehearse the past experiences of my wife and myself.
The author is commendably well-read on his subject and can quote numerous writers who have considered the Sabbath/Lord's Day question with complete ease and authority, pinpointing time and again where they carefully followed the Scripture, or where - in other cases - they erred, despite their sincerity. Correctly, in my view, he charges Thomas Aquinas with introducing compromises which eventually led to First Day Sabbatarianism. All of this speaks highly for the writer's dilligence and depth of research. Of course, to take a single theological point and to investigate that point exhaustively - although this point is not that narrow and has many ramifications - can indeed produce such results. Many taking theology degrees sometimes discover along the way a topic which which they would like to really 'get into,' but the pressure of module work makes that impossible and, all too soon, many of these people are actively working within churches so they never get back to that fascinating theological point which they had once encountered. People like Terrence O' Hare can really shine here.
This book provides a treasure house of quotes and examples to overturn the errors so many hold in this general area and everybody who is deeply concerned about the teaching of a truly Bible-based theology should be grateful to the writer. Alas, I know from my own experience that many of the writer's former colleagues may well come to see him as the enemy. It is a lamentable fact that legalists are among the hardest Christian people to deal with.
Whilst your reviewer found himself in agreement with the whole thrust of O' Hare's polemic against Sabbatarians, perhaps inevitably within a 400-page book, I did uncover a very few statements that I might question although they are really few. Perhaps this naturally leads on to my next section.
Every book has some weaker areas but nothing I write here should detract from this very fine Sabbath/Sabbatarian reference book. Also my criticisms here, as already stated, are very few compared to some books which I have reviewed in the last few years.
As I possibly hinted earlier, sometimes I felt that this book needed a final edit with rather too much occasionally included; some points - to my mind - were scarcely worth making with things getting strained just a little too much at times, especially in the typology area. I think that possibly somebody from a broader theological background would have spotted that and corrected it but the writer here is very much focused on the seventh day/first day controversy, mainly from a reformed perspective, and is very passionate about that area. I also found chapter nine, 'Sabbath or Lord's Day?' a little weaker than some of the other material with the writer sometimes getting a little diverted and straying from his main point. But against these provisos there is much to applaud in O'Hare's solid workmanship here.
If you are a minister, go out and buy this book because it should be by the side of every single Christian minister who occasionally has to fight off outbreaks of legalism from within his congregation (and elsewhere). Indeed the book can be applied to creeping legalism in general at many points. This fine book does indeed arm one in such a way. Perhaps you are not a minister, but I would still recommend this book as an excellent acquisition for every sincere and zealous Christian. Put it in your library because it corrects many inconsistencies and errors in thinking within the entire Lord's Day/Sabbath scenario, apart from the broader anti-legalistic application I have alluded to. Not interested in this topic? Well then, let me challenge you, the reader of this review, to consider this area once again. It is actually fascinating and absorbing and the author here brings out some lovely little gold nuggets of truth along the way.
An excellent book which I heartily recommend!
Robin A. Brace. January 27th, 2014.