Tribute to a revival preacher

John Sandeman

The Rev Geoffrey BINGHAM (AM) MM

1919-2009

This is how historian Stuart Piggin in his book Evangelical Christianity in Australia: Spirit, word and world recounts a revival on the Eyre Penisula that occurred in living memory.

“Many nominals, pewsitters for years, were brought to their knees in tears and repentance and received forgiveness, new life and unimaginable joy… Crowds of people would just sit in wonder for half an hour after the meetings were over without saying a word. Many felt that it was like Pentecost, although without tongues."

A farmer had refused to go to hear the preacher from the city who was holding meetings in the tiny town of Wudiina on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula. So he ploughed his field instead. But a great conviction of sin came over him and he got down from the tractor and onto the dusty ground and gave his life to the Lord.

The preacher was Geoffrey Bingham, the 1969 mission was called “Free Indeed” and the meetings overflowed the Methodist Church and then at the local hall people stood outside listening through the open windows.

The Rev Geoffrey Bingham died earlier this week, aged 90.

Bingham in Sydney

Many years before Wudinna, Bingham had packed out the Garrison Church in Sydney's Millers point in the 1950's.

Hundreds attended the Sunday night meetings where Bingham preached on holiness influenced by stories of revival in east Africa brought back by (then) Moore College Lecturer Marcus Loane, later the Archbishop of Sydney. His ministry featured all-night prayer meetings that "went like a flash".

In the later fifties Bingham view of holiness changed, rejecting the Keswick influenced view that a "life of victory" could be attained by faith, adopting the reformed view that Christians will struggle against sin throughout their lives .

David Hewetson, one of many CMS missionaries influenced by Bingham recalls writing to Bingham from Tanzania " How could we have been so wrong if God blessed us so much?"

Bingham replied "God blessed our obedient hearts, not our muddled heads", according to Colin Reed's book on the East African revival Walking in the Light.

Bingham's theology was tested and forged in suffering as a prisoner of war in the Changi camp during World War 2 according to Martin Bleby, Bingham's long-time associate. What he saw in the camp made him think that "if there is no law there is no God". Consequently he would always take the smallest rice cake when the prisoners ate. He got too weak even to think clearly enough to make that choice. Finally he prayed "God if you exist let me take the smallest cake again".

The answer to that prayer convinced Bingham of the sovereignty of God. In the Kranji hospital camp (where he had been transferred from Changi) as part of a group of men who read the scriptures together, he developed a love for Christian Community.

During Bingham's time in Pakistan as a CMS missionary following the ministry at the Garrison Church, he saw revival which left him "unsatisfied with anything else but the church fully alive in Christ", according to Bleby.

The Wudinna revival occurred during Bingham's period as Principal of the Adelaide Bible Institute (ABI, now Bible College of South Australia, BCSA).

"When he first came to the ABI we had never heard preaching like this before - he turned many students up side down' says Sylvia Sandeman. "His first talk was on love - at one stage he looked at the student body and said 'Do you understand? I can see you don’t'  later he said 'Do you understand? I think you must' .  But we did not, then anyway."

In 1973 he left the college and became an itinerant Bible teacher setting up his new work with a second hand duplicator in a borrowed farmhouse in the South Australian countryside.

Bingham named this "New Creation Teaching Ministries" with a good reason.  He really did believe that in Christ Christians are new people. As a student at Adelaide University I recall Bingham telling of story of an encounter with a girl at a Bible study who had become a Christian. "Could I become a virgin again?" she asked. Bingham assured her that Jesus' power to remove the effect of sin meant that she could enter marriage just as any woman in the group could.

Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen says, 'we have lost a great Christian leader. A man who was cross-centred, and a gifted teacher of God’s word.”

"He was a profoundly thoughtful Biblical spiritual theologian", says Robert Forsyth, Bishop of South Sydney. "Geoffrey was very gracious and helpful to me when I arrived in Adelaide as a young assistant minister in the late 1970s. "I found in Geoff Bingham and the New Creation Ministry he founded a passion for theology and theology’s subject, the living God himself, that was striking and inspirational. There was an emphasis on the doctrines of justification by faith, the power of the cross, the nature of humanity and the fatherhood of God.

"Geoff Bingham was a relentless writer and through New Creation Ministries published his own many books. He also contributed to a genuine ecumenical fellowship of warm hearted evangelicals across the various Adelaide denominations."

Geoffrey Bingham is survived by his wife Laurel, five of his six children, eleven grandchildren, and 7 great grandchildren.

His funeral will be held at Holy Trinity, Adelaide on Wednesday June 10.