Gospel Centered Worship

In early January I stumbled across City Alight’s most recent album Only a Holy God in Tim Challies’ Final Call blog post. I had never heard of them, but after listening to several songs and perusing their website, I knew I had come upon a hidden gem of church music.

What is City Alight?

City Alight is a worship music project of St. Paul’s Church in Castle Hill, Australia, that writes songs for the church to sing. On their website they say,

“These are songs for the church. Like you, we love to hear the church of Jesus sing his praises. And so these are biblical truths put to very simple melodies.”

Their commitment to biblical content and congregational singability is refreshing and encouraging.

Stylistically, City Alight sounds a lot like your average modern worship album – multiple vocalists, chime-like electrics, rhythm acoustics, synth pads, keys, bass and drums. All of the songs on this album are written by City Alight songwriters. They follow a verse/chorus style with the exception that one of them is written in a more traditional three-verse hymn style.

Strengths

Only a Holy God has a lot of good going for it. To start, almost every song has superb lyric content. The writing is rich, fresh, and accessible to our modern vocabularies. It’s clear that there’s a lot of scripture behind each song.

In addition to solid lyrics, the melodies have been meticulously crafted for congregational simplicity and singability. I really appreciate that the melodies usually stick within an octave range; this makes them congregationally friendly – something not so common in today’s worship world.

While City Alight has a full band lineup, the musical arrangements are easy enough, in my opinion, to be reproduced in most average church settings. Not every church will have as full instrumentation, but the beauty of these songs is that they’re not built upon the album’s arrangement. Many, if not all, of the melodies would solidly stand-alone with just a guitar or piano if needed.

The final strength I find in this album is the wide range of themes that the songs cover: salvation, freedom from sin, loneliness, suffering, persecution, God’s holiness, confession, God’s omniscience, devotion, God’s love, and God’s grace.

Weaknesses

Several songs on the back-end of the album sound similar in style and tempo. They follow the common penchant in modern worship music for slow ballads with soaring choruses. I enjoyed the diversity that songs like "All My Ways Are Known To You" and "Christ Is Mine Forevermore" brought to the album, and would love to see more like them.

Standout Songs

The title track “Only a Holy God” has a wonderful sense of reverence and humility about it. I enjoyed the interplay between the verses and chorus, where the verses ask a question and the chorus responds with God’s holiness. This would work well at the beginning of a church service as a call to worship or a song of adoration.

“All My Ways Are Known To You” is an upbeat song about God’s omniscience – not a regular topic in today’s worship culture. In this song’s context, God’s omniscience is framed in light of his care in knowing just what his people need. Verse 1 gives a snapshot:

”In days of peace and days of rest
In times of loss and loneliness
Though rich or poor, Your word is true
That all my ways are known to You”

My personal favorite from this album is “Christ Is Mine Forevermore". I have yet to encounter a song that deals with themes of suffering and persecution in this way. Here is a quote from verse 3:

“Mine are days here as a stranger
Pilgrim on a narrow way
One with Christ I will encounter
Harm and hatred for his name”

Conclusion

Overall, I would highly recommend this album to churches looking to introduce new songs with strong biblical content and congregational singability. The wide range of themes makes it a pastoral goldmine for worship leaders. I am definitely looking forward to more releases from City Alight in the future!

by Calvin Hemphill
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