Given the often tense relationships between Mormons and evangelicals, a friendship between a Latter-day Saint apostle and a top Pentecostal official might seem unlikely.
But not for Jeffrey R. Holland, a senior leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and George Wood, former general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.
The two men have been friends for nearly a decade and on Friday they participated virtually — Holland in Salt Lake City and Wood in Springfield, Mo. — in an hourlong podcast, “Building Bridges With Greg Johnson.”
Johnson, who leads Standing Together, a consortium of evangelical pastors in Utah, has spent more than 20 years coordinating conversations between Latter-day Saints and evangelicals, hoping to promote civility and understanding between the two faiths.
That is a goal both Holland and Wood endorse and, to some extent, have joined.
The men’s friendship began after a meeting at the Utah governor’s mansion in 2011, when Holland was invited to address members of the National Association of Evangelicals.
When the amiable apostle completed his remarks and opened it up for questions, Wood posed the first — and to Holland the most memorable — query: “What keeps you up at night?”
With tears in his eyes, the Latter-day Saint leader responded that he worried about the next generation of believers and all the challenges they face.
That resonated deeply with Wood, who shared the same fear for his own young flock.
“My concerns were identical,” Wood said on the podcast, addressing his friend. “I felt my heart intertwined with you.”
After the session, Wood approached Holland and embraced him (though, by his own admission, the Pentecostal preacher is “not a hugger”).
Since then, the two have spent time in each other’s homes, including a memorable trip for the apostle to Branson and its entertainments, shared their personal “testimonies,” and engaged in long conversations about their respective beliefs.
During the podcast, they were asked about the most distinctive doctrines that separate their two Christian denominations.
The 79-year-old Holland, who was briefly hospitalized in June for an undisclosed illness, pointed to Latter-day Saint teachings about God and Jesus being distinct, embodied beings who together with the Holy Ghost make up a Godhead different than other Christian beliefs about the Trinity.
The Utah-based faith also teaches that the canon of scripture is not closed and accepts the Book of Mormon as holy writ like the Bible.
Mormons believe that theirs is a “restoration” of original Christianity, not a “reformed” breakaway from Catholicism.
Wood agreed that Latter-day Saint ideas about the nature of God and continuing revelation are major differences.
“We do believe in prophecy,” he said, “but it will always be in accord with the teachings of the Old and New Testament.”
Both churches use the term “restoration.”
In the Assemblies of God and the whole Pentecostal movement, Wood said, the idea is that “the 21st-century church should believe what the first century church believed, act like the first century church acted, and relate to the world the way the first century church did.”
In the beginning of the 20th century, God began restoring a church that was “not oriented to the word only but that signs and wonders would accompany the preaching of the gospel,” he said, “and that the spiritual gifts articulated in New Testament — which include wisdom, knowledge and discernment, speaking in tongues, interpretation, prophecy, miracles and healings — are part of [the] package.”
What would both faith leaders like to see come of these theological dialogues?
“I would love to see the Latter-day Saints have the same theological views that I have,” Wood said with a smile.
The grinning Latter-day Saint apostle had the same wish — but the other way around.
“We are both evangelizers and Latter-day Saints are downright proselytizers,” the apostle said. “We are out there with missionaries to at least get people to listen and...want everybody to believe what we believe.”
But Holland said he hopes his church’s missionaries “see themselves as true disciples of Christ,” and spend a “significant amount of time in service.”
Wood and Holland have modeled friendship and kindness, they said, emphasizing what unites them rather than what divides them. And, they agreed, it has made a difference.
In the past, if Wood spied a Latter-day Saint missionary on the street, he said, “I would try to avoid the conversation.”
Now the Pentecostal leader says he would go straight up to the young proselytizer and say: “Do you know Elder Holland?”
That, he said, “cracks through all the barriers.”