Not the only Christians
As the sun arose on a spring morning in 1945, I stood at the gates of Dachau, one of Hitler’s horrendous concentration camps. It had been liberated only a few hours. I will not here attempt to describe the horror, but will say only that what you may have read in disbelief is true. Other soldiers and I could talk only in shocked whispers as we gazed upon the scene.
I did not know at the time that imprisoned within those very gates was a now famous Lutheran pastor, Dr. Martin Niemoeller. After years of harsh confinement, he and a little company of fellow prisoners of different nationalities and Christian traditions had been granted the privilege of worshiping together in Cell 34. Niemoeller had preached the Word of God and celebrated the Lord’s Supper with his fellow believers.
In his words, they became the “Una Sancta”–the one holy church in that place. Niemoeller was a leader of the German “Confessing Church” that stood in opposition to Hitler’s efforts to pervert the gospel with Nazi doctrine. (Perhaps it also is of interest to readers of this article that Niemoeller later felt it necessary to defend before his fellow Lutherans his having communed with non-Lutherans.)
After the war I heard Niemoeller preach, and read his inspiring little book, Dachau Sermons. My heart was moved to think that what Jesus had promised had become historically true: the gates of Hades had not prevailed against the church (Matthew 16:18).
Or was it really the church—the true church—that was in Dachau? To my knowledge, no members of “independent” Christian churches or churches of Christ were imprisoned there!
What does this memory have to do with our subject? It poses a serious question to us who believe that baptism is the immersion of a penitent believer into the name of Jesus, for the remission of sins. The question is this: Was Niemoeller a Christian?
Some of us agonize over this question as we search the Word of God. Is it unbiblical to affirm that Christian baptism is “for the remission of sins”? No, for this is the very language of the Bible (Acts 2:38).
What then? Are we to understand that a believer, who for the sake of Jesus endured a dreadful ordeal in an outpost of Hell, had no right to the Christian name because he was mistaken in thinking that his christening as an infant was true Christian baptism? The Nazis certainly thought Niemoeller was a Christian!