Remembering Rev. Arthur Besteman May 23, 1933 – October 1, 2017
“My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
I first heard of the Rev. Arthur Besteman when I was a seminary student more than thirty years ago. He had a call to First Christian Reformed Church in Rock Valley, Iowa, where my wife, Kathy, and I were on summer assignment back in 1985.
We showed Rev. and Mrs. Besteman the parsonage and talked about the wonderful people in that wonderful northwest Iowa town. Three weeks later, I read his letter of decline to the congregation. His name came up again in 1991. After serving a church in Ireton, Iowa, for five years, the Lord led me to accept a call to western Michigan. While still packing all our worldly goods in Ireton, the congregation extended a call to Rev. Art Besteman. Once again, Kathy and I showed Rev. and Mrs. Besteman the parsonage and talked about the wonderful people in that wonderful northwest Iowa town. Three weeks later, I read his letter of decline to the congregation.
I still have both of those letters—along with several others that I read in various other vacant churches that had called Rev. Besteman to be their minister. By the time I left northwest Iowa, I thought, “Who is this man who seems to be wallpapering his office with letters of call?”
And then we met.
It began simply enough. Road trips with Rev. Besteman and his good friend, Rev. Ed Knott, to Dyer, Indiana, where Rev. Besteman often served as president of the board of trustees for Mid-America Reformed Seminary. To listen to those two seasoned ministers talk was not only educational; it was absolutely amazing for a young man just five or six years in the ministry.
Then there were the Concerned Member meetings, Alliance meetings, Reformed Fellowship meetings, and more. The knowledge these men had of church history, their love for the church of Jesus Christ, and their love for the Lord was truly genuine and obvious.
Rev. Besteman frequently served on the board of Reformed Fellowship. He began to write in The Outlook already in the early 1960s lamenting the lack of gospel preaching in many Reformed pulpits. Rev. Besteman was instrumental in starting the federation of United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA). He was the first minister to be deposed for leaving the Christian Reformed Church. Years later, he would confide in me his fear that the URCNA was slowly becoming more and more legalistic and less and less focused upon preaching about God’s grace freely given through Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
When Rev. Besteman retired, he served as the interim pastor at the Covenant URC in Kalamazoo, Michigan, while they were vacant. I followed him to Kalamazoo after serving the Faith URC in Holland, Michigan. Rev. Besteman followed me to Faith URC as their interim pastor during their vacancy.
While we lived in Kalamazoo, Kathy and I would have lunch with Rev. and Mrs. Besteman on a regular basis. His boisterous laughter would fill the restaurant. He would comment on some current event in the local and universal church only to receive a mild rebuke from his wife, Audrey.
“Art!” she would say, but her shoulders would rise up and down as she tried to stifle a giggle.
It didn’t take very long for me to realize that the reason that Rev. Besteman had declined all those calls was because he, along with Audrey, had a dear, dear love not only for the Lord but also for the people that God had called them to undershepherd.
And then there was his preaching.
Readers of this article who heard him preach may recall the wonderful catchphrases he used. When he was about to make a dramatic point, he would say, “Hold on to your pews!” When he proclaimed the good news of the gospel—faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone—he would act startled and then add, “I’m not making this up! If I were to say this on my own you would accuse me of heresy, but it’s all right here! It’s right here in the Bible!”
What made Rev. Besteman an amazing preacher was not that he could explain the great doctrines of the faith in deep theological terms that no one understood. It was not because he was a man of great stature with a great imposing pulpit presence. No. It was because his preaching was simple. He preached to the seventy-two-year-old lady in the back pew and the seven-year-old child sitting with his parents. “Wyb,” he would tell me, “there’s a heartache in every pew.”
He met those heartaches head-on. He met their concerns, their griefs, and their worries and gave the perfect answer to them all. He gave them the gospel. Straight up, pure and simple, he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. He would bring people in need to the cross of Jesus Christ. That was always his bottom line.
Ordained in 1959, Rev. Besteman proclaimed the grace of God, shown to a sinful human race in the death of his Son on the cross, for more than fifty-five years. He was emphatic about that. Every sermon would reflect that.
His favorite verse was Philippians 4:19, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
It was an incredibly fitting verse for a young boy who lost his father when he was two years old. After her husband’s death, Rev. Besteman’s mother moved back to her parents’ home, and little Arthur grew up living with his grandfather and grandmother. As a young boy who grew up in severe poverty, he saw all his needs supplied by the Lord.
The Lord called him to the ministry. While serving in Leota, Minnesota, he was in correspondence with a minister’s daughter named Audrey Hondred. Soon they were married, and the Lord led them to serve several churches in western Michigan. They were encouraged to buy a condo while serving Beverly URC in Wyoming, Michigan. By the time Rev. Besteman retired it was pretty much paid for. He would frequently remind us that God had supplied his every need.
Social Security took care of most of his needs, but he would tell me that it was really the income he received as interim pastor in Kalamazoo, Holland, Walker, and Eastmanville that tided him over from month to month. He would add, with tears in his eyes that—YES—God had supplied his every need.
It wasn’t that he and his wife weren’t frugal. Shortly after their forty-fifth wedding anniversary my wife and I were visiting at their condo. Even though Rev. Besteman didn’t drink coffee, we would have the hottest coffee ever. It was made in a coffee percolator that he and Audrey had received as a wedding gift.
While we were visiting, the coffee percolator quit perking. It had perked its last cup of coffee. Mrs. Besteman said, “O dear.” She always said, “O dear.”
Rev. Besteman said “Wait a minute.” He ran downstairs and returned with a coffee percolator still in the box. “We got two of them as wedding gifts,” he said. We had coffee in a brand new forty-five-year-old coffee percolator. Rev. Besteman’s comment: “God is so good to us.”
Through his entire life, Rev. Besteman’s constant refrain was “God is so good to us.”
Rev. Besteman knew that it was not only our physical and material needs that God supplied; he faithfully proclaimed that our spiritual needs were met by God’s Son, as well. He preached it every week not just for the seventy-two-year-old lady in the back pew; not just for the seven-year-old sitting with his parents; he preached it because he knew it was for him, too. He needed to be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And God had supplied that need for him.
Rev. Besteman’s last pulpit appearance was on January 7, 2016, at the ordination service of Rev. James Oord at Community United Reformed Church in Schererville, Indiana. His charge to this young man entering the ministry was the same advice Rev. Besteman had given to ministers young and old for decades: “Jim, I’ve been a three-point man all my life. You know that I’m a three-point man, but I can only think of two points for you to remember: Preach the gospel and love God’s people.”
That little sentence—preach the gospel and love God’s people—exemplified the life and ministry of Rev. Art and Audrey Besteman.
This past May, Kathy and I had the joy of visiting with Rev. Besteman at the care facility where he was living. He knew this would be his last home and was selling his condo. I asked what he was going to do with all those wonderful sermons. He said he had told his daughters to shred them.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but my wife tells me that the look of horror on my face startled Rev. Besteman, and he asked, “Why? Would you want them?”
Rev. Besteman was ordained in 1959. More than fifty-five years of ministry. Fifty-five years of sermons. Two boxes. All his sermons were in two boxes. Some of the early ones from his first charge in Leota, Minnesota, are typed out on paper older than many of our readers. Most of his sermons are little one-page or half-page outlines. All of them bring the reader to Jesus Christ.
And sometimes, out of these two boxes, when I pick up an old sermon or an old outline for my morning devotions, I can still hear him say, “Hold on to your pews! It’s all right here in the Bible!”
Well done, good and faithful servant.
Rev. Wybren Oord is the former editor of The Outlook. He is the pastor of Grace Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB.