WACO, TEX. -- The Rev. John Wood, pastor of Waco's First Baptist Church, said he did not intend to become a spokesman for anything.

But recently, he has become a leader of what he considers moderates remaining in the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination's national administrative organization that is increasingly dominated by fundamentalists.

Wood's transformation began June 28, when the Southern Baptist Convention ordered Al Shackleford and Dan Martin, news editors of the Baptist Press wire service, to resign. The convention's executive committee said that, under their leadership, the service that distributes denominational news to state Baptist newspapers was biased toward the moderate position.

The move infuriated Wood.

"I normally don't involve myself publicly" with intra-denominational political disputes, he said. "But I've watched the past 11 years as conservatives took over more and more of the convention. You could say {the ordered resignations} were the last straw. I had to speak my mind."

Wood did so in his Sunday sermon July 1.

On live television, Wood, pastor of one of Texas's most influential Baptist churches, castigated the convention's fundamentalist leadership for its "betrayal of historic {Southern Baptist} religious principles" such as freedom of belief and separation of church and state.

Members of the congregation crowded the stage for more than an hour after the service to express support for Wood's position.

The local newspaper reported Wood's remarks and the excitement they caused. Wire services soon spread the news throughout Texas, home to 2.4 million Southern Baptists -- more than in any other state. Television and radio crews came to Waco, 100 miles south of Dallas, to interview Wood.

On July 17, the 77-member executive committee voted by a 3 to 1 ratio in a closed meeting at convention headquarters in Nashville to fire Shackleford and Martin after they refused to resign quietly.

By then, however, Wood was talking less about the specific incident that catalyzed his activism and more about ways in which moderates could bolster their influence in the convention.

With 14.9 million members, Southern Baptists are the country's largest Protestant denomination.

Although fundamentalists and moderates had been at odds for years, the split became serious in 1979, when a conservative movement organized by Paul Pressler, a state appeals court judge in Houston, and the Rev. Paige Patterson of Dallas propelled its candidate to the presidency of the convention.

Before 1979, the presidency had been largely an honorary position, but fundamentalists used their president's power of appointment to fill leadership positions in the convention's 24 agencies and institutions. Fundamentalists have controlled the presidency since then, and moderates have felt increasingly shut out.

The doctrinal heart of the feud centers on the issue of inerrancy, or infallibility, of the scriptures. While fundamentalists read the Bible literally, moderates believe that scripture, though inspired by God, was written by human beings who are fallible and that scripture's ultimate meaning is open to interpretation.

To protest fundamentalist control, moderates such as Wood are considering or implementing plans to withhold donations from the Cooperative Program run by central authorities. Program money is funneled to domestic and foreign missions and to the denomination's six seminaries.

Individual churches send money to their state Baptist organizations, which forward part of the money to the Cooperative Program.

Before it began withholding contributions in July, First Baptist donated an average of $8,880 a month to the cooperative fund.

"I don't think our effort is going to change the fundamentalist course," Wood said. "But conscientiously we can no longer do what we've always done."

Baptist conventions in states such as Virginia and North Carolina have discussed and organized plans for withholding donations from the central fund and funneling them directly to other organizations.

But such redirection, as the protesters call it, remains scattered and uncoordinated in Texas. Many ministers in the state debate the tactic's effectiveness, arguing that withholding contributions will hurt state conventions.

Although a few Texas churches have concrete rerouting plans in place, First Baptist's actions have received more publicity, partly because of the church's historic association with nearby Baylor University, chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas.

Wood's ministry at First Baptist gives moderates a prominent ally.

Every Baylor president has belonged to the 139-year-old First Baptist Church. Herbert Reynolds, the current president, has been a vocal opponent of fundamentalism since 1979. Recently, however, Reynolds reaffirmed Baylor's 145-year ban on dancing on campus, a move that he says he made out of respect for tradition but that other ministers suggest was a way of placating fundamentalists.

Also at Baylor is Winfred Moore, a visiting professor of religion, a friend of Wood's and former vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention who lost the presidency to a fundamentalist in 1985. Numerous Baylor faculty and students worship at First Baptist.

"It's a strategic church," said Toby Druin, associate editor of the statewide Baptist Standard newspaper. "It's seen as an influential church simply because of to whom it administers."

Despite his newfound position as media darling, Wood agreed, saying:

"I just preached a simple sermon. It got on the AP {Associated Press} wire and before I knew it, hundreds of churches across the South and Southwest were reading my words.

"I never sought to become any kind of leader like this. I just wish now I'd done a better job of writing that sermon."