His ministry was wider than one church

 

This tribute first published in 2009 by the Sydney Morning Herald

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GEOFFREY BINGHAM was an author, soldier, prisoner of war, farmer, Anglican minister, evangelist, missionary, theologian, entrepreneur and down-to-earth thinker about life, love and community.

In the mid-1950s he packed the Garrison Church, Millers Point, on Sunday nights as he preached on holiness, influenced by stories of revival in East Africa brought back by the then Moore Theological College lecturer Marcus Loane, later Archbishop of Sydney.

Eventually, Bingham’s take on holiness changed and he rejected the Keswick-influenced view that a life of victory could be attained by faith. Instead, he adopted the reformed view that Christians will struggle against sin throughout their lives.

Geoffrey Cyril Bingham was born in Goulburn, the sixth of nine children of Horace Bingham, a dentist and later farmer, and his wife Eileen (Dowling). Her father was originally a Tattersall’s bookmaker who was rich, and generous in philanthropy, but the family kept quiet about his earlier occupation.

Bingham grew up mainly in Wahroonga and all his life was conscious of what he called the Presence – the inescapable awareness of God. He began studies at Moore Theological College, but joined the army when World War II broke out, despite inclinations to pacifism.

He was assigned to the 8th Division Signals and left for Malaya in February 1941. A year later, he earned a Military Medal for outstanding courage and leadership under fire as Singapore fell to the Japanese. For the rest of the war, with a badly smashed leg, he was a prisoner in the Changi and Kranji camps.

The experiences of the war, especially the suffering of POWs in the Japanese camps, shaped or broke the faith of Christians who lived through them. Bingham was one whose faith was immensely strengthened and he developed a powerful and practical philosophy of how the law of love, the love Jesus Christ exemplified, could shape human behaviour and create community even amid extreme degradation.

He became camp librarian and shared his faith, focusing on the cross, in a way that inspired his fellow prisoners and gave them hope.

He discovered that even in that food-obsessed environment, close to death from starvation, it was possible, with freedom and even joy, to resist the temptation to claim the best and biggest of the rice cakes on offer and take the smallest.

Back home in 1946, Bingham married Laurel Chapman, a nurse, and farmed for some years before re-entering Moore College. His first (and only) parish was the Garrison Church. He then served with the Church Missionary Society in Pakistan from 1957 to 1966 and founded the Pakistan Bible Training Institute in Hyderabad.

He returned to Australia in 1967 to become principal of the Adelaide Bible Institute (now the Bible College of South Australia) at Victor Harbor. In 1973 he left the college and became an itinerant Bible teacher, and set up New Creation Publications, an independent, non-denominational ministry, with a second-hand duplicator in a borrowed farmhouse. Soon, as New Creation Teaching Ministries, it became the base for the rest of his life’s work.

Bingham’s early war stories, such as The Laughing Gunner, were published in The Bulletin. Short stories, novels, poetry and hymns, Bible commentaries and other theological writings, in total more than 200 books, poured from his pen over the years.

With teams of fellow teachers (now successors) such as Martin Bleby and Ian Pennicook, he established and led missions and annual or weekly preaching and teaching schools – at the NCTM headquarters in Victor Harbor and Coromandel Valley in South Australia, and in Chatswood in Sydney.

He was often invited abroad as well. He preached and taught in Britain, the US, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Thailand and New Guinea.

Bingham remained an Anglican priest and pastor, but his vision and ministry was wider than one church. His influence extended across all denominations, including to the enthusiastic pentecostal churches. He never sought to compete with churches, only to supplement and strengthen them.

In 2005 he was appointed a member of the Order of Australia.

Written by Lesley Hicks, with John Sandeman

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